Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has explained that flexibility was key in his decision not to start Gabriel Martinelli against Slavia Prague.
Martinelli was the only change for Arsenal from the 3-0 win against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday, with the Brazilian dropping to the bench for the Europa League quarter-final second leg clash, despite scoring on his return to the starting line-up.
The Brazilian’s absence from the starting XI in Prague had Arsenal fans talking, with some dismayed not to see the teenager given another chance as captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Odegaard miss out once again.
Instead, Emile Smith Rowe was brought into the starting line-up, with Arteta explaining that Martinelli picked up a knock at Sheffield United and that he felt having him as an option from the bench could be “useful” for the Gunners.
“There are different reasons,” he told BT Sport.
“Gabi [Martinelli] left the pitch with a sore ankle as well and we want to make sure everyone who comes in is fully available to finish the game and that gives us more flexibility to make the changes and Emile is fit and ready to go, so that is fit.
“Gabi has the ability and hunger to score goals, so he is going to be very useful during the game.”
Smith Rowe for Martinelli was the only change from the win at Bramall Lane, with Granit Xhaka once again continuing at left-back, with Arteta explaining that he did not feel the need to change his defensive line-up.
“I liked what I saw against Sheffield United, but it fits what we want to do today and the requirements of the game. We kept a clean sheet as well, which was important and the back four we keep intact.
“The game is decided in both boxes and we have to do better. The game will be decided in details and in both boxes.”
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Martin Keown said he saw the rationale of the decision, but said he was concerned about the Swiss international lining up in a different position to normal, with Gunners fans accustomed to seeing him playing in central midfield instead.
“[Granit] Xhaka at left-back, you look at that and think if he comes under any sort of pressure, we could be in for a long night,” the former Arsenal defender said.
“But with Emile Smith Rowe coming off the front back in to the attack and Nicolas Pepe scoring the other night, with Alexandre Lacazette getting confidence from the other night, they played some wonderful football against Sheffield United and we hope they take that into tonight.”
Arsenal have started the game superbly, with goals from Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka giving the Gunners a 3-0 lead inside 25 minutes.