Six months to the day since he scored against Sp*rs in the north London derby, Gabriel Jesus drew a line under his scoring drought, extended by a long spell on the sidelines, by nonchalantly tucking home a penalty to break the deadlock against Leeds United.
The Brazilian, whose quick feet had drawn the spot-kick from Luke Ayling, then added to his tally in the second half, arriving in the box to poke home a low cross by Leandro Trossard. It was the finish of a man released from the burden of his own thoughts. He slid to his knees, saluted the crowd and smiled as he was mobbed by teammates.
A furrowed brow temporarily returned when he was substituted five minutes later – Mikel Arteta choosing to save his striker’s legs for tougher matches ahead – but by the time the Gunners had wrapped up a comfortable 4-1 win, he was able to reflect on an afternoon full of positives.
“It was so good playing again, starting again and feeling the atmosphere of the crowd,” told Arsenal.com.
“The supporters come all together, and the way they support me is massive.
“I just want to say thank you to them for supporting me until the end. It’s not easy when you’re seeing your striker not scoring goals but they always support me.”
He added: “Obviously, every player wants to play the full 90 minutes, I think I’m ready to play more minutes.
“However, when the ref said to me I was going off, I was a little bit disappointed because I want to play, but of course I respect the manager and the other players as well. So, it was 60 minutes, but I enjoyed it a lot.”
In his post-game press conference, Arteta couldn’t hide his delight. Prior to the game, the Spaniard noted how much ‘looser’ his summer signing had been in training after extra time spent building up his fitness. He wasn’t wrong.
“I’m delighted for him,” said the boss. “They were all clapping for him and he’s been working so hard the last four or five months with a lot of support obviously from the team and the staff.
“Today he deserved the chance to start and he grabbed the opportunity with a lot of conviction and scoring two very important goals.”
“I love challenges,” said Jesus. “Obviously with an injury and when there’s surgery involved, it’s not easy but if God gives me this challenge, it’s because I can survive and come back stronger.
“I remember day one of rehab, working hard and thinking about the way to come back. If I don’t work hard, I’ll come back soft.”