Mixed seasons from Darwin Núñez and Gabriel Jesus shape the title race

<span>Neither <a class=Arsenal‘s Gabriel Jesus (left) or Darwin Nunez by Liverpool are the most clinical finishers.Compilation: Offside/Getty Images; Vince Mignott/EPA” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/lqGeSVaOwC7xq1QH4k4xbA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/6824153d4b3f1c244ad 0cfc653261688″ data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/lqGeSVaOwC7xq1QH4k4xbA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/6824153d4b3f1c244ad0cfc6 53261688″/>

Football is a simple game, but it is also a complicated game, and sometimes the biggest complication is figuring out how complicated it is. As data reveals the complexity of its inner workings and reveals increasingly complex pressing and counter-pressing schemes, at the same time the bluntest and most obvious observations take on a strange depth: ‘What they need is someone to get the ball in lays the field. net.”

At the highest level, the impact of data on processes has been enormous and has led to disturbing shifts in perspective. Take, for example, Brighton’s 2-2 draw against Liverpool in October, when all four goals (one via a penalty) came from transitions after the ball was won high up the pitch.

Even a few years ago the premise would have been that this was the result of carelessness on both sides. On this occasion it was clear that possession had not so much been lost, as the standard description claims, but that it had been regained. These were goals that did not result from mistakes, but from transitions provoked by the excellence of the team that had regained the ball.

Pep Guardiola spends days analyzing opponents, looking for the little vulnerabilities in their defensive line-up, figuring out where he can create overload or create space in which Manchester City’s creators can operate. Everything is analyzed, everything is cracked to maximize efficiency while taking advantage of the opponents. inefficiencies. There is extraordinary refinement. And yet the old truths are not untrue: sometimes it really helps to have someone who can score goals.

The issue of what a centre-forward should be is one that has manifested itself in different ways at Arsenal and Liverpool this season. For Arsenal, the question is whether a team can mount a realistic title challenge without a top scorer. The answer is of course yes: he now has Erling Haaland, but Guardiola has regularly won titles without an orthodox striker and has never seemed entirely convinced of the merits of Sergio Aguero.

The reverse is also true: Harry Kane has scored 23 goals in 19 Bundesliga games this season, but Bayern are second in the table. It may be that over-reliance on one goal scorer makes a threat predictable and has a negative impact on other processes. Still, as Arsenal lost three league games in December while having a higher xG than their opponents, it was impossible not to think how much more credible their title challenge would be if someone converted the chances they created.

Gabriel Jesus is an excellent attacker. His movement is excellent and he is diligent in his defensive work. He says a lot about what’s good about Arsenal’s position; If he were to be replaced, it wouldn’t be easy to bring in a more reliable goalscorer and expect everything to remain the same, just with more goals.

The fact remains that Jesus is not a great finisher. He never scored more than fourteen goals in a competitive season and reached double figures in three of his seven seasons in Europe. Even after scoring at Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, he ranks 505th out of 532 players in the Premier League for goals minus xG (excluding penalties), a rough measure of passing efficiency. That may not matter, even if his main goal is to create space for others and they provide the goals, but Bukayo Saka, the club’s top scorer in the league with seven, ranks 463rd in that regard. Apart from the playmakers, Arsenal is a team that needs a lot of chances to score goals.

But so does Liverpool’s centre-forward, Darwin Núñez. He has seven league goals this season, but he is 24 places below Jesus in that goals minus xG list, ahead of only Nicolas Jackson, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Yehor Yarmolyuk, the 19-year-old Brentford midfielder whose fledgling career is yet to take off. score a goal.

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To some extent that is down to his remarkable ability to hit the woodwork: doing so four times against Chelsea on Wednesday took his season total to twelve. The feeling is that his luck has to turn at some point and at least some of those efforts will eventually come in. He has the feel of a striker who can suddenly come into form and score a 20 or 30 goal season. But then much the same thing was said about another persistent woodworker, Timo Werner, and it never quite worked for him.

But that doesn’t seem to matter: in Núñez’s case, that figure seems to emphasize the amount of chances he generates – even if he misses many of them. There’s something extraordinary about the seeming impregnability of his confidence, about the way he doesn’t seem to care about misses: go again, fail again, fail again, score… and repeat.

It’s not just about the goals, they almost come as a bonus. Núñez is relentless, tireless, a constant flow of energy and physicality, creating space. His unpredictability – he is just as likely to fire a shot into the top corner from 30 yards as he is an open net from five yards – means defenders can never relax around him.

He has seven assists in the league this season, more than anyone other than Mohammed Salah, Kieran Trippier and Ollie Watkins, and four more than Jesus. In that sense, perhaps his debauchery doesn’t matter; Núñez is almost becoming the embodiment of Jürgen Klopp’s football ideal.

Except a disturbing thought arises. Imagine a situation in a crucial Europa League match, either against Manchester City at Anfield next month, or even at the Emirates on Sunday, assuming he is deemed fit. It is an exciting match, with few chances anyway. It’s goalless later. Liverpool defends, wins the ball back and breaks. Núñez is played one-on-one. Do you support him to score? It could be that he is so adept at spreading chaos that he even generates chances against higher class opposition, but it could also easily be that history remembers one major failure and determines that a title was lost for lack of a striker gone.

But then it could also be that a title has been achieved through all the other work he – or Jesus – does. How simple a football match is can be a complicated question.

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