Why Gabriel Martinelli should be studying Alexis Sanchez’ prime years at Arsenal
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
Few Arsenal fans knew the name Gabriel Martinelli before his transfer from Ituano was announced as our first Summer signing in 2019. Just 11 months have passed since then and he is already a fan favourite amongst Gooners. His industrious playing style and eye for goal has left football fans across the country in awe of the Brazilian. However, like with any young footballer, there is always room for improvement. One way he could look to raise his game up a level is by analysing Alexis Sanchez’ glory years at Arsenal. Alexis, a former, I stress former, fan-favourite’s playing style can be likened to that of Martinelli’s. Both have a South American flair about them with regard to their dribbling. The two of them work incredibly hard off the ball concerning their pressing. Each player is also unexpectedly strong aerially. And finally, the two are incredibly cool in front of goal. While it’s obvious that Martinelli isn’t quite on a prime Sanchez’ level yet, the similarities are clear to see. So, what does Martinelli need to do to reach that sort of level? Well, he could start by looking at the progression Alexis Sanchez made with his passing during his time at Arsenal. When the Chilean arrived at Arsenal in 2014, he was more of a pure goal-scorinng winger, by the 2016/17 season, he was producing Özil-esque assists and passes on a regular basis. So much so that by his final season at the club he was on track to produce an xA of over 10 before his infamous move to Manchester United. The year before he left, he also produced a career high of 10 assists in comparison to just 4 in 2015/16. Major improvement. This is the sort of improvement young Gabriel Martinelli should be looking to make. Whilst Martinelli has produced 3 assists for Arsenal in all competitions, its vivid that this is an area in which needs strengthening. An xA/90 of just 0.04 in the Premier League and 0.32 in the Europa League speaks for itself. It is true that Martinelli seems to be more of an instinctive goalscorer than Alexis rather than a creator. However, making his game more rounded by developing a creative threat alongside his natural goal scoring ability would do the Brazilian no harm.
The 18-year-old should also look at Sanchez’ build. The now-Inter Milan loanee was a deceivingly strong player during his time at Arsenal and this helped him bully full-backs- it gave Arsène Wenger the option to play him as a centre-forward and this also enabled him to hold the ball up rather well. Martinelli should be looking to develop similar attributes. Other than Lacazette, Arsenal really do lack a player who can hold the ball up expertly. So, if Martinelli could build his upper body strength and incorporate a decent level of hold up play in to his game he could provide Arsenal with a much-needed plan B when it comes to goal-kicks and deep free-kicks. It looks as though he may have been doing this during lockdown (pree his Instagram). Martinelli, as expected with a player of his age, also tends to fade in and out of games. Take the match against Sheffield United at the Emirates for example. Martinelli barely challenged the Blades’ defence for the majority of the 90 minutes but he still managed to grab a goal. This is the main difference between prime Alexis Sanchez and raw Gabriel Martinelli. Sanchez was always causing problems, the same cannot be said for Martinelli. A wonderful 34 goal contributions in the 2016/17 league season showed Sanchez’ habit of providing a persistent threat to Premier defenders.
Alexis also scored a whopping 57 goals for Arsenal inside the 6-yard box, which showed his brilliant proneness to be in the right place at the right time. If Martinelli wants more goals, he also needs to develop these habits which’ll make his attacking threat more constant.
A great habit which Martinelli already possesses is his tireless pressing. Nonetheless, the former Ituano man’s pressing-style is slightly aimless and frantic at the moment. Whilst his pressing numbers are already very impressive, evident in 4.8 pressure regains per 90 in Europe, this is still an area he could improve in. Something which Sanchez specialised in was smart pressing. This involved choosing when and when not to exert energy to put pressure on defenders. Arsenal fans were often baffled to see that Mesut Özil regularly covered more ground than Alexis Sanchez per game due to the Chilean’s seemingly endless high-intensity running. The reason why Sanchez covered less ground was due to his decision-making. Our 2016/17 Player of the Season was just an expert with regards to cleverly selecting when to apply pressure. If Martinelli can develop this trait, he will cause absolute havoc for opposing defenders. It’s also worth noting that if he is deployed in a proper cohesive pressing system, he’ll certainly thrive. Of course, Martinelli is his own man and he can choose to take which ever career path takes his fancy. However, aiming to get to the level of Alexis Sanchez reached at Arsenal, the Premier League’s best player during his prime years, wouldn’t be a bad route for the Brazilian to take. Some close studying of Sanchez could help Martinelli reach a new level and if he maintains his incredible work ethic he could even end up being a far superior player than Sanchez was during his best years at Arsenal. Mind you, I for one won’t be suggesting Martinelli should be taking lessons from Alexis Sanchez concerning loyalty…