Just as we thought Jesus had risen, putting in an effervescent shift in the 5-3 thrashiing of Barcelona, he was left out of the squad for Wednesday’s Emirates Cup clash with AS Monaco. Because his name is Jesus and he’s going to return soon, we’re obliged to discuss this in religious terms. Instead, let’s go with Michael Corleone, adapted ever so slighty: just when we thought he was in,…they pull him back out. To allay fears, Arteta said it was a “little procedure” to deal with what he called “some irritation.” Rest easy, Goonerland.
Addressing the issue, Arteta explained that Jesus “had a little procedure this morning. He had some discomfort in his knee that has been causing some issues. It’s not something major but he is going to be out for a few weeks I think… he’s been feeling some discomfort in the last few weeks and we had to make a decision. It’s something related to the previous injury he had and the surgery. He had some irritation in the knee and we had to get it resolved.”
At first, news that Jesus was injured probably had more than a few hearts in throats. If we’re take Arteta’s words at face value, Jesus will miss the Community Shield, Nottingham Forest, away to Palace, and perhaps Fulham. That’s just over three weeks and three very winnable matches. Those inclined to worry should remind themselves that we have options—maybe not options galore, but options.
First, of course, there’s Nketiah. He played well against Monaco and might have bagged a brace had Trossard squared for him after running onto Jorginho’s delicious through-ball. Aside from the goal he scored (which came from an insightful run and deft touch), he linked up well, his pressing seemed sharper, and his hold-up play was strong. Was it an electrifying performance? No. If it had been Balogun putting in the exact same shift, there would have been calls to sell Nketiah immediately or insist that we won’t sell Balogun for anything less than £75m. Nketiah was adequate the last time Jesus went down; he’s improved a bit since then.
Balogun, by contrast, didn’t even make the squad in what was one of his last chances in this preseason to prove his worth. I’m sure some will suggest that it’s Arteta playing favourites. It could also be that he’s giving playing time to those who earn it—but I will admit that conspiracies are more fun.
Trossard—remember him from before I slated him for failing to square for Nketiah?— has proven to be one of the sharpest signings of recent years. Rescued from exile at Brighton as a short-term stopgap, he’s been a revelation and plays in a way similar enough to jesus that he can slot in at CF and drift wide to drag defenses out of shape and create space in behiind for Martinelli, Havertz, Smith Rowe, or Rice to sluice through, and he’s astute enough to slip the ball to where only they can get to it.
Beyond those two, I’ll admit, the options get a little more…creative and perhaps a little less desirable. We’ve seen Martinelli play through the middle on a few occasions, such as when he scored twice against Everton back in March. Yes, I know it’s Everton, but all I’m saying is it’s a position he can play when necessary.
Last, at least for now, is Havertz. It’s sometimes a blessing and a curse to be versatile enough to almost anywhere, and Havertz has played on both wings, as an attacking midfielder, a false nine, a second striker, centre-forward, and probably several others. Since coming to Chelsea, he’s played that centre-forward role 69 times, going for twenty goals and five assists. Not stellar, but he’s also struggled due in part to all of the turmoil at Chelsea. Granted some greater stability and more-meaningful feedback should see him start to rediscover the form that made him such a coveted signing a few years ago.
At a risk of driving home a point I’ve made a few times in the last few weeks, we’ve gotten a lot closer to having the kind of depth that will allow us to push through these injuries. We saw glimpses of this last season when Jesus went down during the World Cup. Players stepped up. By the time Saliba went down, that lack of depth became all too apparent. Between the options we now have, we should be able to through the next month knowing that we have more than just Nketiah to turn to. Maybe even Balogun will get another chance…