London: For Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta the return of Gabriel Jesus to his forward line must feel like the signing of a new player.
The Brazilian was back in the starting line-up for the first time in the Premier League since November on Saturday and struck twice in a 4-1 defeat of Leeds United.
The former Manchester City frontman, who suffered a knee injury at the World Cup, was substituted in the second half and left the pitch to a standing ovation.
Nine games left
His first goals in six months helped Arsenal restore their eight-point lead over Manchester City in the title race and with nine games remaining the Londoners are close to winning the Premier League for the first time since 2004.
There are several tough hurdles still to overcome and Arteta’s squad is being stretched by injuries and illness, but Jesus being back is a massive tonic.
“Delighted for him. They all were. We were all clapping for him,” Arteta told reporters. “He’s been working so hard for the last four or five months with a lot of support from the team and the staff. Today he deserved the chance to start.
“He grabbed the opportunity with a lot of conviction and with two goals.” Sickness meant Arsenal’s in-form Bukayo Saka was only on the bench on Saturday while Ben White, who scored their second goal, was also struggling but managed to start.
Centre back William Saliba was also ruled out through injury as was forward Eddie Nketiah who has played such a key role while Jesus was recovering from injury.
Yet despite being off the pace in the first half, Arsenal again showed the kind of togetherness and sprit that will be hugely important in the nervous weeks ahead.
“We are really looking forward to it,” Arteta said of the challenge. “We go to the next target and we go for it.” On the depth of his squad, Arteta said: “First of all the players have to feel trust, that we trust them. They need to feel that confidence. The players have to have the chance, and they need to be preparing to perform in the right way to have the chance like Rob (Holding) did and to actually perform.
“I’m really happy. We need everybody. We’ve had long-term injuries and the team needs to somehow find a way to keep winning and keep performing.”