Gary Neville is right - 'scruffy' Arsenal player is major problem for Mikel Arteta

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One Arsenal player put in a particularly underwhelming performance for the Gunners against Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.

By his own admission, Gabriel Jesus is not a goalscorer. A hard grafter? Sure. A pained impersonator? Oftentimes. But a natural born killer? Not so much. For large swathes of their Premier League title push, it has been a flaw that Arsenal have been able to absorb. Only Manchester City have scored more goals than the Gunners this season, and of their 75 top flight strikes (and counting), the Brazilian has registered just four. Even with the quartet of contributions he has made in the Champions League, his total for the campaign across all competitions rests at a decidedly shrug-inducing eight in 30.

But on Sunday afternoon, Jesus’ lack of lethal instinct was one of several costly factors for a stumbling Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s side slumped to a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, losing vital ground in the title race as a consequence. Over the course of 78 minutes, before being hooked for Jorginho, the centre forward recorded three shots, with just one on target, and an xG of around 0.2. It is not that Jesus necessarily misses big chances, but rather that he doesn’t have the knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time to squander those gilded opportunities in the first place.

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End product, or a lack of it, has often haunted the South American’s time in England, and this weekend was a perfect illustration of just how damaging fine margins can be. When Arsenal needed a breakthrough most - when they were crying out for a goal from somewhere, anywhere - their striker essentially dissolved into the ether.

It was a concern that was not lost on Gary Neville, watching on from the gantry for Sky Sports. Speaking about Jesus during the match itself, the pundit said: 'He's been so scruffy in the final part of his game Gabriel Jesus, during the first half. He's still shaking his head and wondering how he didn't make that pass. He hustles and harasses but his imperfection is the problem at the moment.'

In many respects, Neville’s take succinctly encapsulates the issue with Jesus’ game. Nobody can fault his effort, nor is anybody suggesting that he is a bad footballer, but he is quite evidently not the kind of 20 to 25 goal attacker who is going to lead you to a Premier League title. For the most part, his flakiness in the final third has not harmed Arsenal this season, but when push comes to shove, these factors have a way of biting you at vital junctures.

The Gunners know this, and that is why they are seemingly so intent on signing another striker in the coming months. Everybody from Ivan Toney to Victor Osimhen to Viktor Gyokeres has been linked with a summer arrival at the Emirates in recent times. Presumably, one way or another, they will get the Jesus alternative they are looking for between now and the end of August.

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But in the here and now, that will do little to placate Arteta, his squad, or their fanbase. If ever there was a season to dethrone Manchester City, perhaps this was it. Instead, the overwhelming momentum now lies in the hands of the champions once again.

Of course, it would be ridiculous and foolish to suggest that Jesus is solely to blame for that shift in balance on Sunday afternoon - plenty of Arsenal players failed to turn up, plenty wasted chances to crack through Villa’s resolve. But when all is said and done, should the Gunners fall short for a second consecutive season, Arteta will look back ruefully and wonder just how different things might have been had he been able to call upon a genuinely prolific centre forward.

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