Much has been made of Mikel Arteta’s reluctance to hand Gabriel Martinelli minutes in the Premier League for Arsenal of late, with some fearing the Brazilian may grow frustrated and want out.
Having arrived from Ituano in 2019, the 19-year-old won over the supporters instantly with his all-action playing style, enthusiasm and raw ability. In just 36 appearances for the first-team so far, he has scored an impressive ten goals and provided five assists – highlighting what a fine talent the club have on their hands.
However, he has recently struggled to force his way into the first-team for a number of reasons. The main one being the improvement in the form of both Nicolas Pepe and Willian who endured difficult starts to the campaign. At the time, the Gunners faithful were desperate for the young Brazilian to return so that he could replace either of the more experienced wide-men but it hasn’t worked out that way so far.
Having worked his way back to fitness following a knee injury that saw him miss no fewer than 30 games, Martinelli has found himself to be a peripheral figure. The player himself has said that he sees himself as a left-winger despite clearly having all of the attributes to play as a centre-forward, but there are whispers that Arteta sees things differently and views the young man as his future number nine.
Arsenal are well stocked in the wide areas with the aforementioned pair of Willian and Pepe providing competition for Martinelli, as well as Bukayo Saka. At times, the Gunners boss has deployed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left-wing and both Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe have played from wide also.
However, by the end of the summer, things could look very different at centre-forward. By the start of the 2021/22 season, Aubameyang will be 32-years-old and with Alexandre Lacazette’s contract approaching its expiration date, he could be sold. The futures of Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun are also uncertain and so if Martinelli was to make the positional switch, he could find himself playing far more regularly.
Arteta has often rotated between Aubameyang and Lacazette upfront with both offering him something different. The Frenchman’s greater ability to drop deep and receive the ball, lead a press more effectively and link up play make him a great option. However, the fact that in recent seasons Aubameyang has proven himself to be far more clinical makes it difficult for Arteta to overlook his captain.
Aubameyang’s greater pace and willingness to run in behind is something Lacazette has often struggled with, but a sharp and fully fit Martinelli with the right coaching could become a hybrid of the two and go on to become a more complete forward.
Studying some of the training videos the club have released recently, many feel as though the conversion of Martinelli from a wide-man into a centre-forward could already be underway. At a time the Gunners are said to be struggling financially, his change of role could see them save a great deal of money as well as enhancing the team from a purely footballing perspective.
Throughout the second half of the season, there has been much excitement with regards to the club’s future prospects, in particular, the progress of Saka and Smith Rowe. But make no mistake about it, Martinelli is equally if not more talented than the pair and has just as big a role to play in the years to come.
Arguably the club’s most exciting young signing since Cesc Fabregas, things hit a brick wall for the Brazilian when he suffered a severe injury last June. It may have slowed down his rise to hero status in north London but it’s just a matter of time before he makes his breakthrough and never looks back.
Arteta clearly doesn’t see him as one of his best solutions in a wide position currently but perhaps his plan for the youngster was to make him into a centre-forward all along. Only time will tell if it comes to fruition but there will be very few among the Gunners faithful who don’t believe he is capable of leading the line for many years to come.