Gabriel Jesus heard the Champions League theme music blaring over the gym sound system at Arsenal’s training ground this week and was immediately taken back to his school days. Unbeknown to his mum – until now – he used to bunk off school at lunchtime in Brazil to get home to watch the competition every Tuesday and Wednesday.
Safe to say – after a seven-year break – both he and Arsenal are ready to allow their Champions League love affair to begin again in earnest when PSV visit the Emirates for the opening match day. “Yesterday, some of them were joking in the gym, putting the music on,” Jesus revealed.
“I’m sure everyone is happy, not just the players, the club, the fans, it goes a long way without playing in this competition, now Arsenal are back. It is a different competition because I remember the times I watched at home, the times I missed school to watch.
“My mum would go crazy – if I talk I will get in trouble! I would go to school then halfway through the day, when we stopped to eat, I would go home to watch the game.
“Then by the time my mum came home, it was late, and I was supposed to be home anyway. She never knew – but now she does. Kids – make sure you go to school! But kids – go to school!”
Only Mohamed Elneny – back training again after knee surgery but still some way from active service – was at Arsenal the last time they took part in a competition they had graced for 19 years in a row under Arsene Wenger. Some, like Jesus, have experienced Europe’s elite competition elsewhere.
The Brazilian scored 14 goals in just 22 matches for Manchester City and would not have joined Arsenal last summer if he was not convinced that the Gunners would be back in the competition soon. “Now it is easy to say, but I was 100 per cent confident Arsenal would get back in the Champions League last season,” he said.
“I came to help the club to qualify with the other players, the manager and the staff and we did it. So I am very happy we can play in the Champions League again – and we are going to go for it.”
Jesus was even instrumental in helping sporting director Edu to persuade Oleksandr ZInchenko to make the same move three weeks later, further boosting Arsenal’s pool of Champions League experience. “I was in Manchester at home with my family,” the striker recalled.
“I was supposed to come home by car the day after. Edu texted me that they were going to Zini’s house, and asked if I wanted to join them then go by plane.
“I went there and talked with him, and Zini was surprised. He called me his ‘secret agent’. But if that’s the case, where’s my percentage?”