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Trust Nketiah, recall Balogun or sign a new striker: How do Arsenal replace Gabriel Jesus?

8:00 AM EST 12/7/22
Nketiah Jesus Balogun Arsenal GFX
The Gunners' No.9 will be on the sidelines for months after undergoing knee surgery, but Mikel Arteta and Edu are unlikely to panic just yet

It was the news Arsenal fans across the world were dreading. Everyone feared the worst when reports first started to filter through from the Brazil camp in Qatar that Gabriel Jesus had suffered a knee injury in the game against Cameroon that was going to rule him out for the remainder of the World Cup.

At that point it was not clear just how long the striker would be sidelined for, but the suggestion was that he was going to have surgery that would rule him out for a lengthy period of time.

Jesus immediately flew back to London with his family to see some specialists, and then on Tuesday it was finally confirmed that the 25-year-old had been forced to have an operation, with Arsenal stating that “everyone at the club will be working hard to get him back on the pitch as soon as possible.”

A timeframe has not been put on Jesus’ return, with the Gunners saying it is too early to speculate - but is believed he could be out for up to three months.

It’s a hammer blow for Arsenal, who will return to Premier League action against West Ham on Boxing Day sitting five points clear at the top of the table following their record-breaking start to the season.

Jesus has been absolutely crucial to that start, with his tireless work rate and movement in the final third totally transforming Mikel Arteta’s team.

So the big question now is whether they will be able to pick up where they left off without the Brazilian spearheading their attack.

“We have to,” Granit Xhaka said, when asked that very question by the Evening Standard in the aftermath of Jesus’ injury. “We have the option with Eddie [Nketiah], of course. He showed great games as well in the past. We need to support Eddie because he will be a big, big part of the next two or three months.”

Nketiah has had to wait patiently for a chance this season. Having enjoyed such an impressive end to the 2021-22 campaign and fresh from signing his new long-term contract in the summer, the 23-year-old would have been hoping to get plenty of opportunities to impress.

But such have been the performances from Jesus following his arrival from Manchester City, Nketiah has once again found himself spending the majority of his time on the substitutes' bench.

He has featured in 12 of Arsenal’s 14 Premier League games this season, but none of those appearances have been from the start. All seven of his starts have come in the Europa League and Carabao Cup - as have all three of his goals.

There’s no doubt Nketiah will now get the opportunity in the Premier League that he has been waiting for and everyone at the club will be hoping he can take it.

The only other real option Arteta has is to use Gabriel Martinelli as a striker, but that feels unlikely.

Folarin Balogun, meanwhile, has been enjoying a fine loan spell in France, where he has scored eight times in 15 appearances for Reims, and Arsenal have the option of cutting that loan spell short.

That is something they are reluctant to do, however, as it is clear how much he is benefiting from playing week in, week out in Ligue 1.

Understandably, the immediate reaction to Jesus’ injury has seen fans calling for the club to bring in a replacement during the January transfer window. Whether that will happen, however, is far from a foregone conclusion.

Arsenal have been carefully rebuilding their squad during the past couple of years, with technical director Edu and Mikel Arteta working to a carefully mapped-out plan. They showed last January that they would not move away from that plan, too, when they opted not to bring in a replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after the cancellation of his contract.

They instead waited for the end of the season to get Jesus, and it would be no surprise to see them do something similar this time around.

The club’s priority in the transfer market before Jesus' injury centred around bringing in another winger and a central midfielder, and that might not change.

Arteta trusts Nketiah, that’s why he worked so hard to keep him in the summer, and neither he or Edu will bring someone in if they do not believe it is for the best long-term. If they are going to sign someone, it has to be someone they vehemently believe is the right player.

“The planning of that period is extremely difficult,” Arteta said last month, while discussing the possibility of doing some business in January. “And obviously with the position that we are in right now as well, it demands another level of player - and that player has to be available.”

Arsenal are open to adding to their squad when the window opens. Shakhtar Donetsk's exciting winger Mykhaylo Mudryk has been on the radar for some time, while the club continue to look at 21-year-old Palmeiras midfielder Danilo, as well as Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans.

What Arsenal must decide now is whether to switch their focus elsewhere as a result of Jesus’ injury, or to stick with the carefully laid out plans they already had in place.

It’s a big decision, but if previous examples tell us anything, it’s that Arsenal won’t panic and do something just for the sake of it.