It has been bugging me for some time that Gabriel Martinelli seems to have fallen out of favour with Mikel Arteta.
The young Brazilian burst onto the scene towards the end of Unai Emery’s tenure at the helm of the good ship Arsenal and made a huge impression.
Bukayo Saka was emerging into the limelight around the same time and I remember thinking “these are both great prospects, but it’s Martinelli who looks destined to be a superstar.”
In the 2019-2020 season he made 15 starts in all competitions, plus 10 more appearances as a substitute. In those games he scored 10 goals and had four assists – a spectacular return for a then 18-year-old (contrast it with his compatriot Willian who has had the exact same number of starts and sub appearances so far this year as Martinelli did last season and has managed zero goals and four assists).
After that blistering start to his career, comparisons were being drawn between Martinelli and a young Cristiano Ronaldo. The lad has speed, determination, skill, intelligence, plays with both feet and can head. What’s not to like?
However, since Uncle Unai got the chop and Mikel Arteta arrived, Martinelli’s chances have been few and far between. So far this season he has made only five starts and three substitute appearances.
Admittedly the situation has been complicated by his injury record, but it is mystifying to me that in games where we are chasing a goal and where Martinelli is on the bench he almost never gets a look in.
Does Arteta just not fancy him? A year ago El Patron gave some telling quotes about the youngster in one of his press conferences:
“He needs to digest a lot of things,” said Arteta. “The better you do, the more you have to start to digest what people think about you. He has to think ‘Now, the opponents know me better, the spaces are smaller, I am going to have more attention. I still want to do what I was doing three weeks ago or four weeks ago, but now it’s not happening’. As a young player, you need to go through that. The mental side of it is a process.”
At the time some saw that as a bit of a warning to Martinelli that he needed to improve in a way that Arteta was demanding. Others interpreted it as a sign that the boss had reservations about him generally.
Whatever that improvement was that Arteta was demanding, it does not seem as if El Patron is convinced it has happened yet, because Martinelli is just not getting the game time that we fans would like to see.
Perhaps the player’s injury record goes some way to explaining the paucity with which he is used (because we are being careful with him), but I am beginning to worry that Martinelli will soon be thinking the Portuguese equivalent of “sod this for a game of soldiers” * and will start seeking a move.
He signed a long term contract extension last July, reportedly securing his services until 2024 with an option to extend to 2025. But we all know that if a player is really unhappy – if, for example, he is not getting the chances he feels he deserves – then it’s not all that hard to start agitating for a move through agents, media contacts and so on.
I really, really hope that doesn’t happen.
I’m not a coach or any kind of football expert, I’m just a bloke who has been watching the game intently for more than 50 years, but to my eyes Martinelli is an absolute gem. If he left N5 I have no doubt he would emerge somewhere else as a world class superstar and we would be left with an awful lot of egg on our face.
If we can start playing him and he starts to gel with Saka, Smith Rowe, Tierney and others then we may have the basis of the next great Arsenal team on our hands.
Come on Mikel: sort it out.
*Isso é injusto para um jogo de soldados (according to Google translate: apologies to Portuguese speaking readers if it sounds like nonsense).