Is Gabriel Martinelli entering his final orbit at Arsenal?
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
For those who watched Arsenal take down Leeds in the Carabao Cup this past Tuesday, you might have noticed a very different lineup take the field. Nine changes from Friday's 3-1 win over Aston Villa made for a rather unique scene at the Emirates, as a largely untested and unproven lineup—this season, at least—looked to work together in cohesion.
It worked, for the most part. Arsenal executed the high press with distinction, using the pace of their forwards to give the Leeds backline no shortage of troubles in building out from the back, as they are wont to do. Bielsa's typically disciplined 4-1-4-1 had troubles through the middle, forcing them wide time and time again.
However, Arsenal also struggled going forwards. Their positioning was inconsistent, their touch often sloppy, and their linkup play slow and sometimes seemingly unsure of itself. It was a youthful performance all around, and no player was a better example of that than Gabriel Martinelli.
Having joined Arsenal at the tender age of 17 from Brazilian fourth-tier side Ituano, Martinelli impressed in his first two seasons for the Gunners, tallying ten goals in his first, adding a historic coast-to-coast goal against Chelsea to the history books, and continuing to develop into a startlingly adept young forward, until a lesion in his knee ruled him out for six months at the beginning of last season.
A series of small niggles have kept his playing time inconsistent since then, but there also is no true home for Martinelli in the squad at the moment, as showcased by his display against Leeds United. He's the same well-oiled machine we loved at first sight, and gave Cody Drameh nightmares throughout the match, but he still lacks the composure or cutting edge necessary to make a step into the first team.
Our squad is bloated at the centre-forward position, and unfortunately, I believe that's where Martinelli would play best. His instinct for goal renders every other element of his game nearly irrelevant—in possession, he's no one-trick pony, but his only goal against Leeds, if you'll pardon the pun, was to shoot and shoot often, a choice which often came at the expense of his teammates.
Frankly, he has the top end speed to play out wide, but lacks the dribbling or passing ability to make an effective winger at the Premier League level. He'll do nicely in the FA Cup, and the Europa League group stage would tremble before him, but if he's planning on sticking it out till the end of his 2024 deal, and hopefully beyond, he must play at striker.
His options then, are quite simple. He either must win the battle for supremacy against the talented duo of Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun, both of whom would likely take precedence over him at the No. 9 position currently, or he must become comfortable with the genuine potential of leaving the club. He's too talented to retain a permanent position in the reserves, and if the club is as cash-strapped as we're led to believe, Martinelli is one of the only players in the squad who might be able to turn a very tidy profit. With a base market value of £20-25m, he could be sold for a pretty penny to the right buyer.
To be clear, I don't see that second option as viable. As I've already mentioned, his deal with Arsenal extends a full two years beyond the end of this season, and I think he has all the tools to be a superstar forward within 12 months. But he needs the opportunity to prove himself, and if he isn't given that chance, there will be multitudes of interested parties, at home and abroad.
So no, his time at Arsenal isn't coming to an end, or at least, it shouldn't. The board and management team should be focused on maximizing the 20-year-old's opportunities, to get his development back on track and reinstate his on-field confidence, for the purpose of retaining him for as many trips around the sun as possible. Though he may have underperformed against Leeds, he has all the building blocks in place to set the world alight. All he needs now is the time to prove it.