In football's most bombastic competition, one fixture stands above all others. Since the inception of the Premier League, English football has adopted the chaos. The North London derby was born in it, molded by it. This is the game where 5-2 is a frequently occurring score, where title winners can bawl out their team mates over dropped points in what should be their most glorious moments, where injured players are shoved back onto the pitch because everyone else has forgotten they need to defend.
Clashes between Arsenal and Tottenham rarely prove to be minor skirmishes. These are matches of totemic importance, fans packed together cheek by jowl alongside the Seven Sisters Road, fearing nothing more than the momentum boost that the other lot could get if they win. What both sides need more than anything else is a player capable of harnessing the havoc, one who thrives in the unpredictability of it all.
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In Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal have one of the best in the business. That "chaos", as the manager himself put it, is what Mikel Arteta loves most about his No.9. The havoc is what elevates this team from extreme competence to something altogether more fearsome. Even if you might not be able to stop them, you at least know what Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli or Martin Odegaard are going to do to you. Best of luck to any center backs attempting to prepare themselves for the many faces of Jesus.
That "c" word keeps coming up whenever Jesus is the topic of discussion. Even he himself embraces it. "Everyone has their own quality, personality, skills," he said of himself earlier this week. "Me? You don't know what I'm going to do. I create chaos. I started at Palmeiras at 15, 16. Before that I only played in the streets. I bring the streets to the pitch. That's my quality."
It is an apt description. Like the best freestylers, Jesus always manages to just keep the move going. At any moment a touch to take down an Odegaard long ball could, by coincidence or design, transform into a flick on into the path of Saka.
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Off the ball Jesus is an apex predator. Armel Bella-Kotchap, searching for a way through the three red shirts ahead of him, never spots the real danger lurking on his inside shoulder, at least, not until it is too late. He staggers and punts but he is not getting away from his hunter that easily.
On the ball, he is remorselessly unpredictable. Against PSV Eindhoven he glided from flank to flank, winning duels across the pitch. Rarely if ever does he run in a straight line for more than a few moments, always twisting and turning in his attempts to find goal. He will drop deep to link play then spin in behind. For a 5ft 9in forward, Jesus is a menace under the high ball, one which goalkeeper David Raya went to far more frequently than when Eddie Nketiah lead the line.
You might think there is one known when it comes to Jesus that he tends to miss the big chances. After all in his last seven league seasons including 2023-24 he has had non-penalty shots worth 71.9 expected goals (xG). He has turned those into just 59 goals. Jesus underperforming his xG has been going on long enough now that it is less statistical quirk, likely to regress towards the mean, more long-running bit. Even in an outstanding display on Wednesday night, one capped by a thumping drive at the back post, Jesus contrived to edge Ben White's cross out for a throw-in when any meaningful connection would have resulted in a goal.
One would assume then that the data would point to a player who is spurning more good chances than most, but it's quite the opposite in fact. Since the start of the 2020-21 season Gabriel Jesus has had 42 non-penalty shots in the Premier League and Champions League where the xG is worth over 0.33, shots where the striker should score every one-in-three or better. Their total xG value is 22.5. He has scored 26 goals.
Curiously a player who you might predict misses the easiest chances presented to him is actually something of a fox in the box, averaging 0.45 of those high-quality efforts per 90 (Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, by way of comparison, averages 0.44). If there is a particular foible to Jesus' game it might come at the next xG level down. Of his 25 shots worth between 0.2 and 0.33 xG (often the sort that a crowd will think is an easier shot than it is) Jesus has turned 6.69 xG into four goals.
At this level of granularity the door is rather more open to quirks and variance, but watch those misses through, especially those in an Arsenal shirt, and you will see Jesus has particular chances he seems to spurn more than most. The archetype of that might be the miss below against Leeds United, one where the No.9 finds space between two center backs for a headed shot on goal and contrives to flick the ball well over.
He had spurned a similar headed opportunity against Tottenham earlier in that season, a game where his propensity for pandemonium shone through in the goal he did score, scrabbling around in the six yard box to snaffle the ball away from Hugo Lloris' grasp and into the net (at 0.95, another high value xG shot he converted). That win was one of Jesus' best games in Arsenal colors precisely because of the frenetic pace at which it was played; even a Spurs side managed by Antonio Conte refused to just sit in against their great rivals.
The indications from Ange Postecoglu are that his team will not compromise on their visit to a team who beat them home and away last season. "There are always tweaks that happen because the opposition will force you to adjust certain parts of your game, but the underlying principles of the kind of team we want to be, no I will not shy away from it now because we're facing a good team," said the Tottenham manager.
"We have to go out there and challenge ourselves to play the football we have so far against one of the teams that will be challenging for the title." That is an admirable sentiment, much the same as the one espoused by PSV boss Peter Bosz at the start of the week. That was just the sort of approach Jesus wanted, one where there was space to express those qualities honed on the streets of Jardim Peri.
It was there that Jesus learned to harness the chaos. If history is anything to go on, there will be plenty of it to exploit come Sunday afternoon.
- Date: Sunday, Sep. 24 | Time: 9:00 a.m. ET
- Location: Emirates Stadium, London
- Live stream: Peacock
- Odds: Arsenal -154; Draw +333; Tottenham +350