For months now there has been a clamour to see Gabriel Martinelli played as a centre forward.
When the Brazilian first burst onto the scene at Arsenal last season it was in that position where he impressed grabbing seven goals in just four starts.
Since then though we have hardly seen the 19-year-old playing up front despite Mikel Arteta having dropped hints that that is where he sees his future.
In all fairness that has been pretty understandable when you consider that in Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the Gunners already have two top quality centre forwards, who when available will almost always pull rank in the number nine role.
But when both where ruled out due to injury and illness towards the beginning of last month it was interesting to note that Arteta seemed heavily reluctant to play Martinelli as an out-and-out striker.
First Eddie Nketiah was given a chance in the position before against Everton before Emile Smith Rowe was incorporated into the side in a ‘false nine’ role as the Spaniard seemed desperate to find more or less any alternative solution.
Finally though in Sunday’s game against West Brom Arteta caved and Martinelli was played in the position Arsenal fans had been dying to see him in from the off.
However, the opportunity passed the young Brazilian by and after just 60 minutes he was hooked in favour of Lacazette having failed to muster a single shot on target in the match.
So what went wrong?
Well to begin to understand that it’s important to first take a look at what Arteta demands from his centre forwards.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who has had his own struggles up front this season – shed some light on what was required from a number nine at Arsenal in an interview earlier this month.
“As a centre forward I try to be involved more in the game because the coach is expecting from our number nine to give some solutions to play during the game,” he said.
When it comes to the number nine position being in the box and scoring goals simply isn’t enough for Arteta. The Spaniard wants a striker who can drop deep to link the play before bombing on into the box to be on the end of crosses and cutbacks.
Proof of this can be seen in Alexandre Lacazette’s outstanding display in the 3-3 draw with West Ham in March.
The Frenchman’s most common movement on the day was to drop into the spaces between the Hammers’ midfield and defence that are usually reserved for the number 10. It is for this reason that his average position in the match was almost in line with his fellow attackers Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Aubameyang.
He would then generally look to spray the ball out wide to the attackers who had got beyond him, before getting into the box himself.
This can be seen in the picture below where he drops into the number 10 position where he drops into the number 10 space to receive the ball from Thomas Partey.
He then turns to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang through on goal.
Martinelli struggled with this aspect of the game against West Brom. When the ball was played forward to him he often failed to keep it under control and looked to force passes out wide a little too quickly when they weren’t necessarily on, leading him to lose possession 11 times on the day.
This can be seen in the picture below where he gets the ball from Mohamed Elneny.
Instead of trying to control the ball and play it to Willian who is running beyond him the 19-year-old tries to flick the ball immediately to his compatriot who isn’t ready to receive the pass yet and Arsenal end up losing possession.
It may seem like a simple part of the game when you match Lacazette do it, but there is actually far more to this hold up play than meets the eye.
This anxiety to force play when it isn’t really on comes from Martinelli’s eagerness to impress each time he touches the ball. That urgency and directness is one of the most exciting parts of the Brazilian’s game, but in a role that requires such discipline it was ultimately to his detriment on Sunday.
As the game started to pass him by the Brazilian started to be drawn towards the ball instead of trying to enact the right movements to create space for himself and the team.
This could be seen in his only shot of the half where he dropped deep to well outside the box to receive a short pass from Willian before unleashing a effort from 30-yards and totally ignoring Nicolas Pepe who was free on the right side of the pitch.
It is that naivety that perhaps explains why Arteta has been so reluctant to start the 19-year-old in the Arsenal’s most important matches of the season over the past month.
It’s slightly frustrating as Martinelli does have the abilities to be a top class centre forward if they are harnessed correctly.
The Brazilian has the pace and mobility to get forward to be on the end of attacking moves that Lacazette sometimes lacks, and his technical ability is far better than someone like an Aubameyang.
He also possesses the strength and fight required to hold the ball up even though he ultimately ended up losing the physical battle to Semi Ajayi against West Brom.
All the noises that have come out of Arsenal in recent weeks seem to suggest that this will not be the youngsters only chance to impress in the first team.
After the game at Sheffield United last month Mikel Arteta urged patience from observers as the 19-year-old continues to develop.
“I’m asking you to be patient because we have a lot of players at 19 and 20 years old,” he said.
“When you compare that with a lot of Premier League clubs at the top end it’s not common. Gabi’s having the right path, the right development, he’s got an incredible attitude and talent and has got all the future in front of him.
“What we have to do is to manage that, try to give him the right amount of minutes, the right games for him to develop to continue to get better.”
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“I respect that people want to see more of him, and Gabi did really well, but we have to be patient. He is getting the right development.”
The desire to improve Martinelli is there from both parties and with the raw ingredients he possesses there can be no doubting that he has the potential to become a starting centre forward at Arsenal if he’s able to find the discipline required to succeed in the role.
For now the reality is that he does not seem ready and with contract extension talks over Alexandre Lacazette set to take place in the summer the Gunners may well be forced to rethink their short term plans in the transfer market ahead of next campaign.