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Gabriel Jesus' injury presents high-flying Arsenal with a problem

Arsenal could not have dreamed they would enjoy a commanding lead in the Premier League at the World Cup break when the campaign started at the end of the summer, but hopes of a title challenge are now extremely realistic.

Arsenal could not have dreamed they would enjoy a commanding lead in the Premier League at the World Cup break when the campaign started at the end of the summer, but hopes of a title challenge are now extremely realistic.

Mikel Arteta’s side have won all but two of their 15 league games this term and are 9/4 to win their first crown since the Invincibles went through the whole of the 2003/04 season without losing a match.

However, there has been some bad news as the Gunners are to be without striker Gabriel Jesus until at least the end of February, after the Brazilian suffered a knee injury in their final World Cup group game against Cameroon that required surgery.

Jesus has scored five goals for the north London outfit since his summer move from Manchester City, but he has been a firm favourite at the Emirates with his fellow players and fans alike who have been impressed by his excellent work ethic and ability to bring his teammates into the game.

His absence is an issue for Arteta, but the Gunners boss does have some options.

Nketiah eager to take his chance

The January transfer window is around the corner, but Eddie Nketiah showed on Boxing Day that Arteta may not have to go shopping if he is looking for a temporary solution.

The 23-year-old was handed his first league start of the season and scored the third goal in the 3-1 win over capital rivals West Ham, which should be a huge boost to his confidence.

The former Leeds loanee has found opportunities difficult to come by and his goal was his fourth of the season. The others all came in cup games as he was on target in their 3-1 defeat to Brighton in the EFL Cup and has also scored twice in the Gunners’ Europa League campaign.

They have qualified for the knockout stage and are 4/1 to win the Europa League Outright with Barcelona 9/2 and Manchester United available at 8/1.

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Nketiah has the pedigree as the Gunners have had to lean on him before, when his performances at the end of last season pushed his cause for more regular starts.

Injuries meant he started their final eight games of the 2021/22 Premier League campaign and he scored five goals in those matches.

He was on hand to score twice in a 4-2 win at Chelsea and also scored both goals in Arsenal’s 2-1 home victory over Leeds.

It may however be a concern that he has played just 230 minutes in the Premier League this season and the game against the Hammers was only his 12th start in two-and-a-half seasons.

A total of 14 Arsenal players have featured more than him during the current campaign.

However, he could undoubtedly benefit from a run of games and, if he can keep the seat warm for Jesus until the Brazilian is ready to return, then he will have done his job.

Martinelli could switch to central role

One of the things that has been so noticeable during Arsenal’s excellent first half of the season is that the versatility of Arteta’s forward options has been a basis for their success.

Buyako Saka has undoubtedly grown into the campaign and demonstrated the scale of his development in his excellent World Cup performances and Gabriel Martinelli has also developed into an excellent attacking option.

Should Nketiah’s showing against West Ham prove to be a blip and Arteta needs another central option, it would be no surprise if he elected to play Martinelli through the middle.

He would be able to bring others into the game and help create chances for players such as Saka as well as be on hand to apply the finishing touch himself.

This is something the Arsenal boss may be tempted to do should Emile Smith Rowe prove his fitness.

He would be a perfect fit for the gap Martinelli might create on the left and the word is that Smith Rowe is now looking for game time in the next few weeks as he returns to training after suffering a groin injury in September.

There is also the option of heading into the transfer market, although a ready-made replacement for Jesus would cost a lot of money and it is rare that top players make a move in the winter window.

Arsenal would be an attractive proposition now they are at the top of the Premier League, but Jesus is Arteta’s long-term striker, so attempting to get a tune out of Nketiah looks the most likely course of action.

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