For one fleeting moment, it seemed as if Jorginho’s heart was about to rule his head. Receiving the ball on the right wing in the final minutes of Sunday’s thrilling victory over Liverpool, the Arsenal midfielder realised he had no opponent at his side and nothing but green grass ahead of him.
Sizing up this rare opportunity, Jorginho darted forward and surged towards the final third. The Emirates crowd roared him on, and one can only imagine the options that must have been running through his mind. Sprint towards goal? Dribble with the ball? Perhaps even produce a stepover? He was born and raised in Brazil, after all.
And then Jorginho remembered who he was, where he was and why he is paid to play for Arsenal. Just like that, the head took over again. Jorginho stopped his run, turned back towards the centre of the pitch and played a simple pass towards a team-mate.
It was the sensible move, taken by a player who seemingly always makes the right decision at the right time for Arsenal — even at times of temptation. And the pass was one of 45 he completed across the course of the afternoon, the most of any Arsenal player. He also took 70 touches, which was again the most of any of Mikel Arteta’s players.
The most passes, the most touches and the most influence. No one did more to shape this match in Arsenal’s favour than Jorginho, whose mind remains one of the sharpest in European football.
Do not be fooled by the fact that Jorginho is not a regular starter for Arsenal. Whether he is playing or coaching from the sidelines, Jorginho matters to his club and especially to his manager, who rates the 32-year-old as one of his most important players.
“His biggest quality is that he makes the people around him better,” said Arteta. “He connects everybody and he was unbelievable [against Liverpool]. He was man of the match. I have always said that he is an example, a role model. For all the kids, for everybody at the club, just look at him and how he behaves.”
It is indicative of Jorginho’s quality that Arsenal consistently look a better team when he is in their side. Martin Odegaard looks more dangerous with Jorginho feeding him. Declan Rice looks more dominant with Jorginho supporting him. Kai Havertz, superb as a forward against Liverpool, looked liberated by the presence of Jorginho behind him.
The obvious question, then: why doesn’t he start more often? This was his first in the Premier League since November. Arteta went some way towards explaining it in his post-match press conference, when he revealed that Jorginho has been battling a long-term fitness problem.
“He has been in a lot of pain,” said the Arsenal manager. “He has an issue that he has been carrying for months. He did not want to stop, he has been playing with that. He has been training as the first one in and the last one out.
“If you ask him not to play, or to play one minute like last week, he is happy to go there. You ask him to play 98 minutes at the rhythm and he is able to do that. I am really lucky to have players like this.”
If there was any pain in his body against Liverpool, Jorginho masked it well. He has never been a physical player — hence that swift return infield when the spaces on the wing beckoned — but he flew into tackles on Sunday. No player on the pitch made more interceptions. At one point in the first half, he produced an enormous leap to win a header over Ryan Gravenberch, the athletic Liverpool midfielder who stands at 6ft 3in tall.
More than a year has now passed since Jorginho left Chelsea for Arsenal in a deal worth around £12 million. To be blunt, Chelsea’s expensive midfield replacements have yet to show they are any better than the Italy international.
For Arsenal, an important decision must be made soon. Jorginho’s current deal expires at the end of this season, and the club has an option to extend it by a year. Given his influence, on and off the pitch, it would be a surprise if they chose against keeping him at the club for another 12 months.
“We have not spoken about it,” Jorginho said on Sunday. “I just want to win games with Arsenal. You push hard every day to be prepared when the coach calls. And that’s what I have been doing, just training hard and trying to be prepared for when the team needs me.”
Jorginho’s CV is spectacular: Champions League winner, European Championship winner, Club World Cup winner, Europa League winner, Coppa Italia winner. He has not, though, secured a Premier League medal. “It would mean a lot,” he said. “That one is missing.”
He might not play every minute, and he might never score another goal for the club, but if Arsenal do go on to win this title race, then Jorginho — the brains of the team — will undoubtedly be one of the main reasons for their success.