With reports emerging that Gabriel Jesus requires knee surgery and could be sidelined for up to three months, Arsenal’s entire season has been thrown into disarray. Jesus is one of the players that Arsenal could ill-afford to lose, because of how influential he is on the team’s style, and how unique his skill set is. Simply put, Jesus does everything: he presses, he creates, he links play, he takes players on, he scores. He perhaps doesn’t score as much as he should, but his all around play is crucial. It is Gabriel Jesus, combined with William Saliba, that has allowed Arsenal to push further up the pitch; plus, there are the intangible benefits, such as Jesus’ leadership, experience, and winning mentality. Simply put, there is a reason Arsenal spent £50m on Gabriel Jesus, and there isn’t exactly another one lying around.
Arsenal, though, have to do something. Eddie Nketiah cannot play every game until the end of March or beginning of April—and Nketiah was already playing fairly significantly as a left winger. That Nketiah was playing as the left sided forward in reserve of Gabriel Martinelli was a sign itself that Arsenal needed another wide forward. This was a need anyway, as Arsenal let Nicolas Pépé leave, as they sought to replace him. Then, Emile Smith Rowe got injured, and Arsenal’s wide forwards aside from Martinelli and Saka were essentially Nketiah, repurposed from centre forward, Reiss Nelson, coming back from injury, and Marquinhos, in his first season in Europe.
The question, now, is whether Arsenal get a striker or a wide forward—or both. As I see it, Arsenal have three options. Arsenal can get another center forward, sign a wide forward, or bring Folarin Balogun back from loan, if such a recall option exists. Bringing in a forward may be easier after the World Cup, as playing time becomes less of a priority. Balogun is an option, but it may be better to leave him where he is: he’s doing fairly well in Ligue Un, and wouldn’t be coming back to be first choice, and indeed, would be back to third choice once Jesus comes back.
The other option is a wide forward. This might make most sense: it would enable Arsenal to utilize Nketiah as a center forward, or utilize Gabriel Martinelli or Emile Smith Rowe as a center forward option. Neither will replace Jesus; Martinelli could replace his irrepressible pressing, Smith Rowe the link up option, while Nketiah can offer the scoring threat. Arsenal are going to have to change their attacking system without Jesus; what Arteta will want to do is try to keep as much the same as possible elsewhere. This is why a wide forward is perhaps the easiest option, as well as bringing in an option who is ready for the Premier League.
Losing Gabriel Jesus is potentially devastating for Arsenal. But in order to maintain the baseline level of Arsenal’s expectations now, which is to qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal will need to be active in January.