Gabriel Martinelli’s situation at Arsenal has left most of the club’s fans scratching their heads.
The Brazilian missed the opening three months of this season due to a knee injury sustained at the start of project restart, but came back to play a crucial role as the Gunners started to get their campaign back on track in late December with standout performances in games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Brighton.
Since then though he has hardly featured for Mikel Arteta’s side, playing just 63 minutes in the Premier League in 2021.
Instead of kicking on for what is a crucial time in his development, the 19-year-old has had to watch on while the likes of Willian, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are given game time ahead of him. Martinelli was even left out of the squad entirely for the North London Derby victory over Tottenham.
This has led many theories to develop as to why he isn’t playing. Aside from the obvious incredible competition for places, the one that seems to have gathered most traction is that the Brazilian is being trained to play as a centre forward.
Martinelli has played much of his football for Arsenal on the left, but he has also been compared to his compatriot Ronaldo Nazario by none other than Ronaldinho, while Arteta has previously stated that he views the youngster as a number nine.
“[Aubameyang and Martinelli] are [centre forwards],” Arteta told FourFourTwo after Arsenal’s last game before the original COVID lockdown against West Ham in March last year.
“But with the squad balance that we have at the moment, to play on those positions on the left we don’t have players.”
“We are using one [left-winger] to play as a left-back [Saka] and he is not a left-back so we’re just trying to adapt to the situation that we have today, trying to create an amount of goal threat that can be successful for the team. That’s part of managing the players that we have.”
Now that Arsenal have more or less a fully fit squad, the logic would seem to dictate that Martinelli is going to be used as a centre forward in the future by Arteta.
But as several of the Gunners stars break off from club duties to go and play for their countries, the Spaniard seems to have dropped a hint in training that that might not be the case.
Martinelli has never been one to shy away from taking an opportunity and with a world class finish during a practice match, the 19-year-old reminded his boss of the talent he possesses.
Interestingly though the position from where the Brazilian scored that goal was not from the centre forward position or even the left wing position where we have seen him play in the past.
Instead Martinelli found himself playing on the right wing.
It was where he spent most of the training session, being tasked with staying on the right channel as Arsenal’s squad engaged in a drill targeted at building the ball from defence to attack involving Calum Chambers, Gabriel, Rob Holding, Dani Ceballos, Willian, Lacazette and Folarin Balogun.
It is not unheard of for the Brazilian to play on the right. He was used there in one of Arteta’s first Premier League games against Burnley. But generally he has been either on the opposite flank or up front.
While Arteta has generally tended to prefer having his wingers acting as inside forwards who cut in from the opposite side and look to shoot with their strong foot, such as the right-footed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left or the left-footed Bukayo Saka on the right, the Spaniard is not totally averse to the idea of playing more traditional wingers.
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Nicolas Pepe – who is overwhelmingly left-footed – had a decent run in the side on the left in January, while Reiss Nelson started a few of Arteta’s early matches on the right.
This is something we also saw his mentor Pep Guardiola practice in his early seasons at Manchester City, with Leroy Sane playing much of his football on the left and Raheem Sterling popping up on the right.
As Arteta seeks to mould his Arsenal in that image the use of Martinelli on the right could be a suggestion as to where he views the Brazilian’s long-term future.