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Arsenal Season Preview: forwards

The Gunners need to score more goals this season. I think they will.

Arsenal v Orlando City SC Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Last but not least in the Arsenal position preview series are the forwards. The Gunners need to score more goals this season. Full stop. Mikel Arteta is relying on his marquee move of the transfer window, Gabriel Jesus, to carry most of that load. He’s been brought in to score 15+ goals this year.

Arsenal are desperately trying to offload Nicolas Pépé, but right now, they can’t seem to find a willing buyer / loan destination. I think by hook or by crook he’ll end up elsewhere come the close of the transfer window. The club also may sell Reiss Nelson, although right now, it looks as if he’ll be staying with the club.


Gabriel Jesus

Season Outlook: Gabriel Jesus was brought in to be the guy at Arsenal this year. The club need him to score at least 15 goals. His preseason output suggests that he’ll probably reach that, but it was just preseason.

The bigger preseason takeaway is how Gabriel Jesus will fit into Arsenal’s attacking setup. The front four was incredibly fluid with guys changing positions, popping up on different wings, and creating overloads. It was fun to watch. Jesus also showed that he was willing to drop deeper to receive the ball, distribute it, spin, and get into the box. Arsenal haven’t gotten that from a center-forward in a while.

All of that draws attention from defenders, creating time and space for other players. It was clear that Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli had more room to operate during the preseason because defenses couldn’t focus on them.

Best case season: He wins the Golden Boot. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. A strong start to the season secures him a starting role with the Brazilian squad for the World Cup.

Worst case season: The biggest knock on him is that he squanders too many chances. In a bad season, that continues. It’ll be magnified at Arsenal because the Gunners don’t create as many chances as Manchester City. So when he misses them, it’ll hurt that much more.


Gabriel Martinelli

Season Outlook: Martinelli will start the season as the first-choice left-wing. He already seems to be developing great chemistry with Gabriel Jesus. At times during the preseason, he showed a new tendency to come inside on the ball instead of trying to get around the corner on the outside for the cutback. That unpredictability will make him harder to defend.

Best case season: Scores double-digit goals. He burst onto the scene in 2019 at Arsenal but has been slowed by injuries and the turnover at the club. He’s got bags of potential, but it’s time for him to take the next step. In a good season, he does just that and becomes the type of attacking threat opposing teams have to game plan around. He’s one of a bunch of guys written in pencil as potential options for the Brazilian World Cup side, I think. A good opening three months of the season would secure his place.

Worst case season: Struggles to score and loses his starting role. To be honest, I think individual performances from attackers will matter less this year as long as Arsenal are scoring goals. But if the overall attack isn’t producing, Martinelli will be the first guy shifted to the bench.


Eddie Nketiah

Season Outlook: Nketiah will be the starting striker in the Europa league and domestic cups. I think he’ll be a regular 65th-75th minute Premier League sub, too. He has looked quicker and stronger this preseason and has banged in a few goals. He could be a surprise breakout player for the Gunners.

Best case season: Scores in bunches in the Europa League and cups, adds 5-8 Premier League goals. I don’t think he’ll get to 10, but if the Arsenal attack is as improved as it looked in the preseason, double digits could happen.

Worst case season: Is it too boring / if I say that a bad season for Nketiah is one where he doesn’t score many goals? Because that’s what a bad season looks like for any striker.


Reiss Nelson

Season Outlook: Right now, Nelson “may” get a chance to prove himself at Arsenal. That would look like a regular Europa League and domestic cup role. He (and Nicolas Pépé) are the only true right wing backups for Bukayo Saka unless the club makes another signing before the close of the transfer window. Saka will need more rest this season, so maybe there is a spot for Nelson.

Best case season: Carves out a role as the backup right wing. Scores 3-5 goals in the cup competitions. Nelson has said that while on loan at Feyenoord, something clicked for him. He had a breakthrough realization about what it means to be a professional — that there are a bunch of little things that he has to do to keep himself fit and give himself the best chance for success. He admitted that he wasn’t doing them and that he has started. I’m hopeful those aren’t just empty words.

Worst case season: Nelson stays at Arsenal but hardly plays. Goes out on loan with an obligation to buy in January, ending his time at the club.


Marquinhos

Season Outlook: Don’t expect him to be more than a peripheral player this season. I was surprised, however, at his physical stature when I first saw him. He does not look like a 19-year old. He’s built like an adult. Often physicality is a stumbling block for teenagers playing with senior sides. I don’t think he’ll have that problem.

Best case season: He surprises everyone with a good performance or two in early season cup matches, which earns him more playing time. Bags a couple goals and gets people excited about his potential next year and beyond.

Worst case season: I don’t think that Marquinhos can really have a bad season because the bar for him is so low. He’s more of a developmental player / prospect. I don’t expect him to contribute much, so anything he does manage is gravy. A bad season for him would be if he was completely and totally not at the right level in whatever appearances he does make. And even then, he’ll get a chance to right that wrong next year.