The fear was that the break for the 2022 World Cup had come at the worst possible time for Arsenal. The Gunners had built up a head of steam as the Premier
Jesus’ arrival at the Emirates Stadium had been a catalyst for Arsenal’s unexpected title challenge with the Brazilian forward giving Mikel Arteta’s team purpose in the final third of the pitch. Without Jesus, the fear was that the Gunners would fall apart as an attacking outfit. That, however, didn’t happen against West Ham.
Eddie Nketiah did an excellent job of deputising in the number nine position, scoring a well-taken third goal that put the finishing touches on a 3-1 victory. Arsenal need more than just a goal-scorer and the 23-year-old demonstrated all the qualities of his all-round game. The Gunners have genuine depth this season.
“It was a great goal but I think overall his performance was incredible,” Arteta said when asked to assess Nketiah’s performance. “The way he understood the pressing, his intensity, the way he counter-attacked certain spaces, the composure he showed. And then he stayed patient. And in the box he produced a moment of real quality to win us the game.”
There was fluidity to Arsenal’s attacking play against West Ham with Nketiah willing to drop deep and link up all areas of the Gunners’ game. That’s what Jesus does so well, so Nketiah’s performance surely did much to allay Arteta’s fears that his team would have a different profile without the Brazilian.
Arsenal’s starting lineup clearly has the quality to sustain a Premier League title challenge over the course of a full season. However, their squad depth has been doubted in the past and the injury to Jesus over the World Cup break thrust these concerns into focus again. Arteta certainly doesn’t have the options available to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
But there might still be enough within the Arsenal squad for them to maintain their form even as injuries hit. Nketiah is another player who has clearly grown under the stewardship of Arteta who is getting the sort of output from the 23-year-old that many envisaged he would be capable of producing earlier in his career.
Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli will all need to step up in Jesus’ absence, and they did that in the 3-1 win over West Ham, but it has never been clearer that Arsenal are a unit rather than a group of individuals than it is now. The World Cup break has done little to stop them. It’ll take more than that.