• Dillon Meehan

Unforgettable memories but many ‘what ifs’ – Assessing Gabriel Jesus' time at Manchester City

In what might be the first in a series of polarizing departures, Gabriel Jesus has left Manchester City after five and a half seasons to team up with Mikel Arteta and Arsenal for £45 million.

 

This is a departure that, unfortunately, makes too much sense. The last two years haven’t exactly been kind to Arsenal’s new forward. Despite the clear need for a true striker, Pep Guardiola often opted to play with either Phil Foden or Kevin De Bruyne through the middle. As if that wasn’t enough, he also went out to sign the best young striker in the world and the best prospect in South America for good measure.


There hasn’t been a lot of outgoing starters in the Guardiola era, yet. We aren’t exactly used to something like this. There has been the steady drip of thirty-something-year-old club legends year after year, as well as academy graduates who weren’t quite good enough. But the only similar situation was Leroy Sane, who hasn’t exactly panned out since moving back to Germany.


Despite being respectfully shown the door, Jesus leaves behind a collection of unforgettable moments, played pivotal roles in the biggest of games, and helped break records.

Photo courtesy of Gareth Copley/Getty Images
 

The first transfer window under Guardiola started a much-needed rebuild. A big-money move for John Stones, a good deal for the often injured Ilkay Gundogan, a decent fee for a young Schalke prospect named Leroy Sane, and an inexpensive depth signing in Nolito. And in early August it was reported that City had signed Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras for £27 million.


It was Twitter compilations and pure speculation, but the excitement was there. The Rio Olympics were that same month, and by the time Brazil captured their first Olympic gold, the excitement turned to expectation.

And at first, he delivered. I still remember his debut against Tottenham, nearly grabbing an assist with his first touch, then the header just over the bar a few seconds later, followed by the back post tap-in winner and dramatic celebration only for the linesman to raise his flag. A metatarsal fracture sidetracked most of his first half-season, but come next fall, he was in full swing.


There was the brace in the 5-1 drubbing of Liverpool, the 3-5-2 partnership with Sergio Aguero, and maybe most importantly, the centurion chip against Southampton.

Photo courtesy of GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

By the end of the season, the 3-5-2 had been abandoned, and Aguero – having seemingly nearly been forced out of Manchester – fought back and won. And it never seemed to quite be the same.


There were flashes, ups and downs. Hat-tricks in the Champions League group stage, followed by missed sitters in the league, only for all of it to be redeemed by the Herculean performance against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu just days before the world was shut down. It was the start of a trend.


Even this past season despite becoming a rotational player, he scored the winners against PSG and Chelsea, the lovely set-up for Foden’s goal against Liverpool at Anfield, and scored in the home fixture during the run-in.


All moments that will, hopefully, never be forgotten.

Photo courtesy of JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images
 

But he also leaves Manchester with a flurry of ‘what ifs’.


What if he was able to fight off Aguero for the starting striker spot? What if he had a better performance at the 2018 World Cup? What if just a few of those fractional offside goals were able to be converted. What if he was more clinical? What could that player have become?

His confidence was understandably shot.


Maybe it will return at Arsenal. There will surely be an increase in minutes, and Arteta’s rebuild has reached its make-or-break moment. He won’t have the same embarrassment of riches he was afforded in Manchester around him in North London – but Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard aren’t exactly slouches. Jesus will be expected to perform.

Photo courtesy of Arsenal

We will miss his work rate, his passion, his knack for coming up in big moments and those high cheekbones. We won’t miss the inconsistent finishing and the extra touch or two that squanders a chance.


But I’m happy for that Watford game.


It was the perfect closing note, four goals and an assist just hours after it was reported about his potential departure. It was the final piece of evidence for those who believe he has what it takes to be a top striker in the Premier League.

And for those that had already written him off? It glossed over the lack of production the past few years, let people forget that he had been dropped from the Brazil squad, and paved the way for City to fetch a fee they would have had no business asking for this spring. Maybe both are right.


Nevertheless, thank you, Gabriel Jesus.

Photo courtesy of Jan Kruger/Getty Images
 

Written by: @IVIeehan