Arsenal’s recruitment in the 2019 summer transfer window was exciting. They splashed £72m on Lille’s Nicolas Pépé, £27m on sought-after teenage defender William Saliba, £25m on Celtic hero Kieran Tierney, £8m on David Luiz, and snatched Dani Ceballos on loan from Spanish giants Real Madrid.
There was one move, though, which crept under the radar. Arsenal signed Brazilian teenager Gabriel Martinelli from Ituano, a club resided in the third tier of football in Brazil. The fee was just £6m.
For the majority of the football community in England, Martinelli was just an unknown youngster of which they expected nothing outstanding. Fans of Brazilian football recognised his potential, though, and were excited to see the move unfold.
Martinelli’s debut season
For an 18 year old, making the move from the Série C to the Premier League is a gigantic step, but Martinelli greatly impressed during his first season in North London.
The statistics speak for themselves. In 7 Europa League fixtures (with just 61 minutes per game), he bagged himself 3 goals and 2 assists alongside a staggering 5 big chances missed, showing his quality but also his need to find his feet.
Further stats in Europe included 4 big chances created, 1.3 key passes per game and 1.9 tackles per game.
It was in his Europa League debut that he really made his name. Facing Standard Liège at The Emirates, he got 2 goals and an assist, all three of which were very well taken. This came alongside 5 key passes, 3 big chances created, 3 tackles, 6/9 ground duels won and 100% dribble success.
Over in the Premier League, Martinelli saw just 6 starts, with 48 minutes per game. Throughout the campaign he managed 3 goals, one of which was an iconic solo effort at Stamford Bridge.
Gabriel Martinelli picked up the ball and took it all the way to the other end of the pitch to slot it home in front of the away fans, seeing N’Golo Kanté slip in his path and creating a very memorable moment.
His season sadly ended with a knee injury. It required surgery and saw him sidelined for 169 days, missing 30 games for the Gunners. This was a big blow for both him and the team, and fans couldn’t help but worry with regards to Arsenal’s previous injury history.
A committed future
On the 3rd July 2020, just two days after Bukayo Saka signed a new contract in North London, Gabriel Martinelli followed suit and committed his future to Arsenal, taking him to 2024 in red and white.
Mikel Arteta was reportedly adamant and determined to tie the youngster down, and he played a massive part in convincing Martinelli that this is where his future should lie.
Martinelli told FourFourTwo “I want to win the Champions League and lots of domestic titles to make Arsenal fans really happy,” and that he wants to “become a Gunners legend.”
Arsenal are again playing Europa League football this season, so for Martinelli to speak of winning the Champions League in North London is a good sign that Mikel Arteta has big aspirations, and that the players are well behind his vision, with star-striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also extending his contract last pre-season.
His injury comeback
Gabriel Martinelli’s first game back following his knee operation was in the FA Cup, away at Portsmouth.
He played the full 90 minutes as Arsenal secured a 0-2 win, creating 1 big chance, 1 key pass, 4 tackles, 6/11 ground duels, 2/3 dribbles and 3/3 long balls.
In the Premier League this season, Martinelli has only made 5 appearances, including 2 off the bench, with a total of 42 minutes per game.
He has looked short of the heights he reached in the 2019/20 campaign, and injury niggles have certainly played their role; Martinelli has struggled to put together a string of games, and has only played 13 minutes in all competitions in February.
Arsenal fans’ concern
Some Arsenal fans are confused at the length in which it has been since Martinelli has featured. He rolled his ankle in January, and was out for just 8 days.
It is understandable that Mikel Arteta will not want to rush Martinelli back into action; the Premier League is very fast paced, and all of Arsenal’s focus now is in Europe. What is frustrating, though, is that he is barely being given a chance.
Martinelli has been in full training for over a month now, and there has been no news of any new injury concerns for the youngster. It would be nice to see him integrated back into the side with cameos off the bench, but instead, Arteta is turning to the underperforming Willian.
In all fairness, Willian played very well this afternoon at King Power Stadium, with 2 assists to his name in Arsenal’s impressive 1-3 victory. However, Arteta’s persistence to keep giving him chances has only halted Martinelli’s development.
Willian has consistently failed to warrant both his large wages and his place in the starting eleven over the course of his Arsenal career. To keep bringing him off the bench, instead of giving Martinelli a fresh chance, is absurd. Sometimes, though, it makes sense, like in the second leg against Benfica in Athens.
Arteta explained this decision after the game: “because there wasn’t much space to run in behind, it was a really tight two lines, 4-4-1-1, or 5-3-2 at times, they were a really, really low block, not much space to run apart from when they set the line around the 18-yard box.”
Martinelli is a runner. Whilst technically gifted, it is his immense work rate that sets him apart from other teenagers across Europe. Willian is better in tight spaces, he is very comfortable on the ball, and he helped Arsenal turn the tie around in Greece.
This explains his decision on this night, but not for the same decisions across the last month. Martinelli went another Premier League game without featuring a single minute today, and it remains unclear when he will next contribute in red and white for Mikel Arteta.
Not playing at all will do no good for Gabriel Martinelli’s confidence, which can do a lot of damage for a 19 year old. He needs to feature soon, or he will become unhappy and feel demoralised.
It’s a tricky situation for Arteta, with the club in an important run of games, but Martinelli’s development is also important for the club, and its not a big ask from the Brazilian.