SEVILLE, Spain — How Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta must hope this thrilling look at his first-choice front three is not too fleeting.
Tuesday night was only the second time this season that Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka have all been named in the starting lineup, and their combination proved too much for Seville in a hard-fought 2-1 win at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
Between them, they amassed 40 goals and 23 assists in the Premier League last season and the success of Arsenal’s current season will depend in no small part on their continuing effectiveness.
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Saka is so often the star turn in this trinity but that honour emphatically went to Jesus in Andalusia, making one for Martinelli and scoring the other himself with two moments of quality unrivalled by anyone else on the pitch all evening.
The 26-year-old has spells where his profligacy can profoundly frustrate but equally there are evenings where he is almost unstoppable and this was one of the latter. He now has 18 Champions League goals in 26 starts, 23 in 41 appearances overall for Arsenal and Manchester City.
“Big games are for big players,” Arteta said. “He needed to produce those moments to win in a stadium like this. He’s done it for us in a really big way.
“I think he changed our world. He brought so much belief and energy to that team. He needs to step in in those moments. He’s done that. That’s when a player becomes accountable for the team. We need those players to win games.”
The sight, then, of Jesus limping off nine minutes from time with a suspected hamstring injury was of obvious and significant concern.
“He felt something in his hamstring so let’s see,” Arteta said. “He straight away asked to be subbed which is not good news because he’s not a player that does that at all so we’ll have to wait and see in the next few days.
“[I’m] really sad because he felt something and I’m worried about that.”
The trio have had to battle a multiplicity of fitness problems. Jesus missed the start of the season after undergoing a minor knee operation. Martinelli was absent for five matches recently because of a hamstring injury, the same type of issue that ended Saka’s run of 87 consecutive Premier League games earlier this. Even before that, Saka had been substituted in successive matches following heavy challenges.
It might be a consequence of their explosive power. In a city renowned for its history and culture, Sevilla perhaps appropriately selected a back four of grand old relics, none more distinguished than legendary 37-year-old centre-back Sergio Ramos. Sevilla’s defence had a combined age of 136 and they regularly looked vulnerable to the energy and pace of Arsenal’s front three, none more so than when the visitors took the lead with a devastating counter-attack on the stroke of half-time.
After Dodi Lukébakio‘s cross was cleared and in a flash, Jesus turned defence into attack, controlling a high ball, before executing a Cruyff turn and released Martinelli to run through the Sevilla half, round goalkeeper Orjan Nyland and side-foot home a simple finish.
Eight minutes after the restart, Jesus created a chance for himself, working the ball onto his right foot in the box before curling a stunning shot past Nyland and into the far corner.
What followed was a tense finale, set up by Nemanja Gudelj‘s 58th-minute header — Sevilla’s first shot on target — which halved the deficit and triggered a spell in which Declan Rice‘s intelligence and combativeness came to the fore while William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu stood out in a rearguard action which largely required them to repel an aerial threat from set pieces.
In fact, the most alarming moment came when Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya bookended another nervy evening by somehow pushing Juanlu’s stoppage-time cross towards his own goal, the ball landing gratefully on the roof of his net. Raya’s continued selection ahead of Aaron Ramsdale remains a talking point, particularly after a first half in which his distribution was once again called into question: the Spain international completed 10 of 16 passes in the first half, equating to 62.5%. That was the worst completion rate of any player on the pitch.
Yet positive results such as this buy Raya more time to bed in, masked by the achievement of a first Champions League away win for Arsenal since beating Basel 4-1 in December 2016.
After losing in Lens, the Gunners would have been firmly on the back foot in Group B with another defeat here, but instead they now sit in first place ahead of two home games against Sevilla and Lens.
“That result against Lens put us in a difficult position and the team had to react,” Arteta said. “We are coming from the back of very difficult games where the team has to step in and go against adversity as well with some of the injuries that we picked to big players.”
With Jesus set to be assessed in the coming days, Arteta must hope that injury list does not interrupt the progress of his front three.