Gary Neville says Arsenal’s lack of combination between their front three could cost them in the Premier League title race – adding that current No 9 Gabriel Jesus hasn’t got an “instinct” in front of goal.
Arsenal went top of the league on Christmas Day for the second consecutive year thanks to a 1-1 draw at Liverpool last Saturday, as Mikel Arteta’s side look to write the wrongs of last season in 2024 when their title charge faltered after Easter.
But Neville says a lack of combination between Jesus, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli this season is proving to be a “real problem” for the Gunners, especially when compared to Liverpool’s historic front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah – who are the last attack to beat Manchester City to the league title in 2020.
“At Arsenal is an emerging front three that could be great. But they don’t combine a lot together,” he said on the Gary Neville Podcast.
“That’s a real problem, the best front threes involve their centre-forwards and the wide players, they play and bounce it off them.
“You see in years gone by, Salah, Firmino and Mane would link between the three of them. At Manchester United, when we were at our best, the front two would link between them.
“It is difficult for defenders to deal with them when front players link. Martinelli, Jesus and Saka, I don’t see them linking up a lot.
“I don’t see Liverpool making a move in that position in January because they’ve got Diogo Jota and plenty of players up there. It’s more Arsenal.
“I’ve been talking at the end of many of their games this season about whether Gabriel Jesus or Eddie Nketiah are No 1 and No 2 strikers in Premier League title-winning sides. Or whether they are actually No 2 and No 3 strikers and they need that No 1.”
Neville says Jesus, who has three goals in 13 Premier League appearances for Arsenal this season, has qualities similar to Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez – but says a lack of killer instinct is not helping the Gunners.
“I actually love Jesus,” added Neville. “He’s a brilliant player and I would love to play with him. He’s got a bit of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in him, but he hasn’t got that instinct in front of goal. Sometimes he’s everywhere you don’t want him to be.
“When you look at these [Arsenal] three [forwards], not just in terms of goals, they don’t combine a lot together in the game. That is going to cost them at some point.
“There have been a lot of times this season where that player [hasn’t been] stepping across the front post to tap it in or get a nick on it, they haven’t got that sniffer.”
Carra: Not enough goals at Arsenal
Meanwhile, fellow Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher compared Jesus to Firmino – but says the Arsenal No 9 needs more goals from Saka and Martinelli to justify his selfless role in Arteta’s side.
“When you have someone like Jesus at the top end of the pitch, you need to have someone like Mohamed Salah or your goalscorer out wide. He [Jesus] is almost Roberto Firmino-like in that his job wasn’t to score goals,” said Carragher.
“When you look at Arsenal’s front three and put them together, there’s not really enough goals there. They need someone to be a Mo Salah or a Sadio Mane so there’s no-one to notice Firmino’s lack of goals.
“Believe it or not, the season where Liverpool won the title in 2020, Firmino didn’t score a goal at Anfield in the league. That is unbelievable for a team winning the title. But Jesus, we look at him because there’s not those amount of goals coming from the wide areas.
“I look at Arsenal and parts of Liverpool and go: can they win the league with deficiencies in certain areas? You look at Arsenal and you think can you win the title with a lack of a goalscorer every week who is going to be getting a goal or close to getting one?”
Merson: Arsenal can win the Premier League
Speaking on Soccer Special on Boxing Day, former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson says the Gunners can go on and win the title due to the impact of summer signing Declan Rice.
The England midfielder has been one of the signings of the season following his £105m move from West Ham earlier this year – but Merson says the left-back role is an issue for Arsenal.
“Arsenal are a different team now. They’ve learned a lot from last season and putting Declan Rice in there has taken them to another level. I think Arsenal can go on and win it now.
“They would have rolled over [against Liverpool at Anfield] two years ago. They would have been beaten by four or five at Liverpool. And they didn’t [on Saturday], they hung in there and they could have nicked it had they played the right pass.
“I think the left-back could be their problem. They need Zinchenko for the games against the bottom half teams where they go, play and dominate the games. But when they play the big, big teams…
“But now they have nice fixtures. If they don’t win their next four games, you’re not entitled to win the Premier League. That’s what you have to do, beat those teams and the big games will look after themselves.
“But I make Arsenal the team now. If they win their next four games, they’ll be 22 games in.”
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