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21/22 First Team General Youth

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli Conundrum

It’s fair to say that the recent influx of youngsters at the club means it is exciting times for Arsenal fans. A summer which saw the club splash a cool £150m on new players, bringing in the likes of Nuno Tavares, Ben White, Martin Ødegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu among others has ushered in a new era for the club.

However, amongst the exciting crop of young recruits is Gabriel Martinelli, a man seemingly caught in limbo. Unable to nail down a place in the team, but arguably good enough to be starting regularly, but is it mismanagement on Mikel Arteta’s part or is Martinelli simply unable to take his chances?

Martinelli has already established himself as a fan favourite in his time with the club. Plucked from relative obscurity in the Brazilian fourth division, Martinelli instantly impressed Unai Emery and became one to watch under the Spaniard’s tutelage.

When Emery was promptly dismissed, Martinelli continued to impress under interim coach Freddie Ljungberg (scoring his first-ever Premier League goal in the process) and has continued to do so under Arteta.

Martinelli made an immediate impression on Arsenal when he joined.

However, following the suspension of the Premier League in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinelli was unable to play for the rest of the season as he picked up a long-term injury training, effectively ending his season.

Since then, it’s been a struggle for Martinelli to get into the team, which has become a worry for Arsenal fans.

Last season, Arsenal looked utterly toothless in the attack and the introduction of blistering pace and high-pressing movement as well as a seemingly never ending stock of stamina, Martinelli would often raise the level of the team around him, even if he wasn’t necessarily making much of a contribution in terms of goals or assists.

This season, Arsenal have looked a lot better. The creative trio of Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have been difficult to argue with, so Martinelli’s chances have been somewhat limited, however, fans have begun to wonder whether Martinelli would get a look in regardless of the trio’s current form.

With Granit Xhaka fully fit, Arsenal prefer to play a 4-3-3, which often sees Ødegaard drop into midfield and Smith Rowe and Saka out wide, but with a 4-2-3-1, Arsenal are down a midfielder (especially given Xhaka’s recent injury).

The youngster would often turn the tide when brought on last season, not least in the Europa League.

Mikel Arteta reportedly sees the Brazilian’s long-term future in the middle of the attack, in the position currently occupied by one of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette. This seems to be an odd prediction, given that Martinelli always seems to perform well when pushed out wide and has struggled with the mantle of becoming the lone striker.

With Xhaka’s absence, it would seem that the more logical choice would be to impart one of Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Albert Sambi Lokonga into the midfield to pivot with Thomas Partey, but perhaps there is a third option.

Aside from the more obvious choice of dropping Aubameyang (who’s form has since improved from last season, but who still looks a little off the boil), Arsenal may have a replacement in the form of Ødegaard, which would allow Smith Rowe to drop into the central creative role and Martinelli to move out wide, his preferred position, where he can build upon his remarkable partnership with Kieran Tierney.

Of course, Ødegaard’s predilection for moving forwards and creating chances would be at odds with the position’s requirement to create from deep, however, many Arsenal players have made the switch from central attacking midfielder to deep-lying playmaker, such as Santi Cazorla and current manager Mikel Arteta.

Martinelli has found first-team opportunities limited this term.

Perhaps allowing Ben White to drop into midfield when Ødegaard is unable to sit back while the attack happens would provide Arsenal with sufficient cover, as well as Takehiro Tomiyasu’s ability to drop into central defence and Ødegaard’s exceptional work rate would mean the defence is not exposed for too long.

This too would allow Martinelli to be accommodated into the side. Bukayo Saka seems to have the right side on lockdown, making it near impossible for Nicolas Pépé to retain the role from the number 7 and Smith Rowe has looked promising both through the middle and outwide.

If Arsenal are unable to accommodate Martinelli, then they may need to consider a temporary move away for added game time. It is unlikely that Reiss Nelson, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nkietiah and Alexandre Lacazette will be with the club next season, hell, even Nicolas Pépé could be on the way out if the right offer is made, which means that Martinelli is able to gain some first-team experience and then return to the team with less blockages obscuring his path.

Time is on Arsenal’s side with the youngster however, as Martinelli committed his long-term future to the club in the form of a five-year contract at the end of the season before last and seems to have no intentions (at least publicly) to leave the club.

Perhaps at home to a momentum-gaining Crystal Palace (currently headed up by former captain Patrick Vieira) is the wrong time to try and experiment too much, but Arsenal will need to find a solution for Martinelli soon or risk damaging their diamond in the rough.

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