Why Gabriel Jesus is a better striker than Alexandre Lacazette

Gabriel Jesus and Alexandre Lacazette – Why Gabriel Jesus is a better striker than Alexandre Lacazette – GETTY IMAGES/REUTERS

Following Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace in April, striker Alexandre Lacazette went 17 hours and 53 minutes without a Premier League goal in open play. He did not score again for the remainder of the season as Arsenal lost their Champions League spots.

On Friday night Arsenal will kick off a new Premier League season with their top summer investment Gabriel Jesus starting up front.

The Brazilian scored 95 goals in 234 games for Manchester City and was a reliable member of four championship teams, but has developed into a rotation option up front rather than ninth.

Mikel Arteta’s job is to reconnect Jesus with the hungry goalscorer who debuted in Brazilian football as a teenager and was coveted by Europe’s biggest clubs.

If Arsenal return to the Champions League, greater striker productivity is an obvious area for improvement and this is how Jesus can help.

pressing

“He’s the best striker/defender I’ve found to play in three positions,” said former Jesus coach Pep Guardiola, and he certainly offers Arsenal’s extra pressure.

Lacazette was engaged defensively and quite adept at deflecting the ball from opponents, but struggled to maintain intensity throughout the 90 minutes or take advantage of opportunities that required speed over short distances. Jesus can do both.

Arsenal’s aggressive defensive strategy – pressing opponents high up the pitch – was a notable addition to their pre-season play, and forcing opponents to make mistakes led to several goals.

“You can’t do that if the players at the front are walking, they’re not keeping up,” Arteta said after the pre-season win over Sevilla. “They don’t have that instinct and that intention to bring about the things we want and Gabby is phenomenal at that.”

In this game last season, Arsenal could not handle the defensive pressure from Palace and continually coughed up the ball. This time they have a chance to turn the tables, with Jesus aided by the industry of Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.

Dribble

Before running out of gas, Lacazette’s game proved to be useful for Arsenal, but it was a bit one-dimensional.

The Frenchman enjoyed being used as a centre-back, defining the game with first-time passes to his teammates. He rarely leaned in to start the ball and carry it forward.

When he was dragging defenders out of position this was effective, but defenders quickly discovered they could hold their position because Lacazette would never threaten with the ball at his feet.

Jesus, on the other hand, played a significant proportion of his Premier League minutes as a winger and his presence in the squad gives Arsenal another dribbler.

There was a delightful turnaround in Arsenal’s friendly win over Chelsea as he swung the ball to the right and passed Trevoh Chalobah after getting the ball back in goal midway.

Lacazette would have retreated to the midfielders or looked for a foul, but Jesus has a wider range of motion.

second phase threat

Both Lacazette and Jesus can combine with teammates in small spaces. This suits Arteta, who wants to use his central striker to drop into pockets of space to outnumber the opposition midfield.

The difference with Jesus is that once he’s made the opening pass, he’s able to cover ground quickly enough to threaten in the penalty area.

This was captured in his first goal against Sevilla in the Emirates when he received a diagonal from Ben White near the left touchline.

After finding Granit Xhaka’s underlapping run, he was able to run to the six-yard box to score a rebound. In a comparable situation, Lacazette would have reached the edge of the area the moment the ball hit the net.

Fluidity

One criticism of Arsenal’s attack under Arteta is that they can resemble a Subbuteo team, with players tied to their positions and little exchange between them.

Lacazette was not a forward who was at home near the touchline, but Jesus is much more comfortable on the flanks, which could allow Martinelli and Saka to fill the central zone and be close to goal.

It also makes it easier for Arteta to put Jesus and striker Eddie Nketiah in scenarios where Arsenal are chasing a goal.

Arteta always wants his team to attack with structure, but the more happy players in a variety of zones can make Arsenal more elusive.

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