Arsenal may be Champions League naïfs, but in Gabriel Jesus they have a man who knows exactly what winning football needs to look like at this stage of the European season. It is only a pity for Mikel Arteta that his availability might be so fleeting as his side try to navigate a critical period in their domestic and continental campaigns.
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Having cracked open the stalemate in Seville with one brilliant assist just before the interval, Jesus put Arsenal in the ascendancy early in the second half as the Gunners earned a 2-1 win that places them top of Group B. The greatest concern for this team will be whether, after limping off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, their No. 9 will be there to lead them through the back half of the group stage campaign.
Then again, their return game against Sevilla at the Emirates Stadium next month should not hold much fear for Arsenal. On tonight's evidence it was easy to see why the Andalusians had just dispensed with the services of their Europa League-winning coach. Diego Alonso will have quite the job on his hand if Sevilla are to catch Lens or the Gunners.
Though robust in defense -- particularly when Marcos Acuna got near Bukayo Saka -- too often Sevilla fell back on the foibles of the old regime, hammering away crosses that Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba could easily deal with. The hosts had enough possession to ease the pressure Arsenal posed but even without the ball the visitors looked more dangerous than their tepid hosts.
If anyone was going to enliven a fairly dour first 45 minutes it was going to be one of the Gabriels, it seemed. Martinelli had already flown through to claim a through ball from Jesus in the fourth minute, Orjan Nyland doing well to make himself big enough to block the effort. There was a missing ingredient though. Arsenal had to have more Gabriel. A hoofing clearance from Magalhaes of a Sevilla attack asked a fair bit of his No. 9. With one touch Jesus killed the ball, the next spinning 180 degrees to open up a passing angle.
Martinelli was flying forward, so far clear of Sergio Ramos that he had time to slow his run, wait for Nyland to go to ground and roll the ball past him and subsequently into the net.
An ideal ending to the first half, it set the tone for a far more aggressive approach at the other end, where the Brazilian forwards were soon forcing more errors from Sevilla's sedentary backline.
Certainly, Jesus Navas lacked the burst to stay with Arsenal's center forward when he cut in from the byline on his right foot. Two teammates came to quell the danger but too late. Jesus opened his body, bending a stunning shot into the far post. For a player so often criticized for his goal return, the Brazilian tends to deliver when the continental lights are on. Since the start of the 2019-20 Champions League, the famously sub-par finisher has scored 15 goals from 11.56 xG in the competition. Has Arteta considered swapping out North London Forever for "Die Besten, Les grandes équipes" before every game Jesus plays?
A third might have come from Martin Odegaard moments later but European trips are rarely as easy as Arsenal were making them look in the first 10 minutes of the second half. One corner kick was all it took, Sevilla causing the same headaches for their visitors that they had Real Madrid at the weekend, Nemanja Gudelj rising above Jesus to thud home an Ivan Rakitic corner. Sevilla believed again.
It felt intimidating for Arsenal because this is the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, a ground where so many European giants have come unstuck against an opponent lacking in £100 million players (albeit more often than not that comes in the Europa League). For the most part, the Gunners held Sevilla to a string of ambitious bicycle kicks. It would have been a special way to draw level but if that is all that the team chasing the game is creating, you're doing something very well.
Declan Rice delivered a performance of customary excellence in shielding the defense while Takehiro Tomiyasu vindicated Arteta's decision to bring him into the XI with a diligent display. No less crucial to keeping Sevilla at arms' length was the work of those further up the pitch. No one made more interceptions or recoveries than Martinelli. Saka led Arsenal in tackles attempted and won eight of his 13 duels. As Paris Saint-Germain prove on an annual basis, defending in this competition is far harder when you find yourself outnumbered.
Ultimately, the nearest Sevilla went was David Raya's aggressive punching of Juanlu's cross from the right wing, the ball flying off his glove and onto the roof of his own net in the 94th minute. It was another shaky moment for the Spaniard, whose sloppy work in possession in the first half will have Aaron Ramsdale's defenders calling for his dropping, but if he had not got glove to ball Youssef En-Nesyri might well have got boot to it.
Raya's form might well be a worry but the far greater cause for concern would be Jesus limping out in the 80th minute, gripping his hamstring as he gingerly passed the captain's armband on. His had been a performance of real leadership, one where he delivered in the biggest moments. Arsenal will not be the same side without him.