Gabriel Jesus Injury: Assessing Arsenal’s Options Without Their Brazilian Striker

Just when the 2022 World Cup seemed to be going well for Arsenal, (soccer) tragedy struck. Gabriel Jesus left Qatar, headed back to England, and underwent knee surgery.

As you might expect, that news has sent the Arsenal fan base into a collective panic. While no one really expects the North London club to remain in first place for the entire campaign, playing without Jesus has everyone fearing the worst. Without him leading the line, what will happen to the Gunners’ firepower?

With that in mind, let’s explore the options that Edu Gaspar, Mikel Arteta, and the rest of the Arsenal brass have when it comes to coping with Gabriel Jesus’ injury.

When does Gabriel Jesus return from injury?

Gabriel Jesus during Brazil's third group stage match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Gabriel Jesus’ injury has put Arsenal in a tough spot. | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

While that’s the million-dollar question, no one is really sure as of yet. As noted by Arseblog, the initial word from the Brazilian media is that the striker could require surgery that would put him out for three months.

On December 6, Arsenal confirmed that Gabriel Jesus’ injury required surgery. Beyond that update, though, the club didn’t provide much insight.

“Gabriel Jesus has successfully undergone surgery to his right knee after suffering an injury during the Brazil v Cameroon World Cup group stage match on Friday,” the official statement began. “Gabby will now begin his rehabilitation programme. Everyone at the club is supporting Gabby and will be working hard to get him back on the pitch as soon as possible.”

Thankfully for Gooners everywhere, Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT did put the injury into context.

“Latest on Gabriel Jesus,” he wrote on Twitter. “Return timeline after MCL surgery is typically 10-12 weeks. Ligament heals quite well due to robust blood supply. Granit Xhaka was back in 70 days & would’ve been sooner if not for accompanying fracture as well. True timeline will be wait & see.”

In another tweet, he laid out potential recovery times. In the best case scenario (a medial trim), the forward would be sidelined for four to six weeks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a lateral repair would mean roughly 16 weeks out of action.

If an approximately three-month window is accurate, though, that means Gabriel Jesus should return from injury at some point in early March. That would see him missing at least 10 Premier League matches, plus a few other engagements.

So, what can the Gunners do?

Option 1: Arsenal respond to the Gabriel Jesus injury by starting their backup striker, Eddie Nketiah

I’ve got this listed as the first option because it’s the most likely solution. Eddie Nketiah is Arsenal’s backup striker, so he could step into the starting 11.

While there are legitimate concerns about his big-picture ability — barring a strong run at the end of last year, the young Englishman hasn’t really built up much of a body of work at the senior level — the larger context suggests that he’ll get a legitimate shot at replacing the injured Gabriel Jesus. Arsenal handed Nketiah a new contract and the iconic number 14 shirt in the summer. You don’t do that if there isn’t confidence that he can fill a role.

It’s also worth considering what we know about Arteta and Arsenal’s current project. The manager isn’t going to sign off on adding a player unless he’s 100% sold on the addition. Will that transfer target exist in January, especially after the World Cup and with clubs knowing the Gunners need a front man? Similarly, the hypothetical new man would also need to play a specific way to fit into the current project. You’re not going to have much time on the training pitch to work out the kinks in this compressed season.

Beyond those logistical notes, Nketiah can also do the things that Arteta asks of his striker, like pressing from the front and rotating in possession. He might not do those things as well as Jesus, but he can fill a similar niche.

Option 2: The Gunners can get creative and start an alternative option, like Gabriel Martinelli or Emile Smith Rowe, up front

So let’s say that Nketiah isn’t seen as the solution to the Gabriel Jesus injury situation, but Arsenal are hesitant to spend big money on a striker in January. The club could have some alternate options on the books.

One of those would be putting Gabriel Martinelli, who has shone as the Gunners’ left winger, into the middle. We heard whispers last season that he was working on his center-forward skills, but a move hasn’t materialized. The young Brazilian does have plenty of pace and an unceasing engine, but he hasn’t shown the consistent scoring that you’d ideally want from a striker.

Moving him to the middle would also require a change on Arsenal’s left flank. The most logical replacement would be Emile Smith Rowe, who is set to return from injury after the World Cup break. While he’s a different sort of player from Martinelli, the young Englishman does do his best work in the left half-space and provide a different attacking wrinkle in and around the box.

Alternatively, Martinelli could stay on the wing with Smith Row slotting into the center. Arteta did speak about the midfielder playing as a number nine in February 2022 (h/t Arseblog), although that hasn’t materialized. And while it’s fair to wonder how ESR’s physical profile will work up front — you’d have to imagine he’d be something of a false nine — we do know that he has a knack for scoring goals.

Option 3: The Gabriel Jesus injury could force Arsenal to pivot and find a striker on the transfer market

As Arsenal move toward the January transfer window, adding a winger and midfielder seem to be at the top of the to-do list. Depending on the severity of Gabriel Jesus’ injury, though, that plan could change.

As I mentioned earlier in the piece, there are some criteria that we can comfortably apply to any player the Gunners are considering purchasing. While they don’t have to be prospects — everyone knows who Jesus is at this point, for example — the potential targets do have to possess the potential to grow with the club’s current progress. They also have to be good characters and, at least in the January window, can’t cost an eye-watering sum.

If you combine those criteria with the rumored names, Barcelona’s Memphis and Roma’s Tammy Abraham could be potential options. The former is older but could move on a cut-rate deal, if not a loan; the latter would be more expensive, but he could provide a long-term stylistic compliment to Gabriel Jesus. The Gunners, like many other teams around Europe, are also potentially interested in Cody Gakpo, but his price tag could be an issue. If you’re paying upward of $60 million for a player, he has to be a long-term piece of the puzzle, not a stop-gap solution.

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So, while Arsenal have a handful of options moving forward, none of them are truly ideal. If anything, the club will probably be in damage-limitation mode until Gabriel Jesus’ injury lay-off comes to an end.