It’s an exciting time to be an Arsenal fan right now. The Emirates Stadium has never been so raucous – 60,000 brimming with hope and excitement, singing in unison, “we’ve got super Mikel Arteta!” Nobody truly knows the level this team can reach but right now it looks, and feels, really, really good.
Arsenal’s electrifying start to the Premier League campaign has been spearheaded by the arrival of Gabriel Jesus, who is loving life in North London, having scored five and assisted three in his first ten league games, but it’s not just his direct goal contributions that have raised the level of this team.
The Brazilian’s hunger and tireless work ethic have transmitted into the other forward players, particularly off-the-ball in settled pressing scenarios. On the ball, his tendency to drift to the left has enabled him to develop a deadly partnership with compatriot Gabriel Martinelli.
Everyone is familiar with Martinelli’s direct and aggressive style by now, given this is his fourth season with the Gunners. The 21-year-old, hailed as ‘special’ by his manager, has had his development disturbed by injuries. Now, however, he looks fitter and stronger than ever, and plays a key role in Arsenal’s attacking patterns.
Primarily responsible for holding the width on the left-hand side of Arsenal’s attack, Martinelli regularly combines and rotates with the left central midfielder (Xhaka) and the left back (Tierney/Zinchenko) to create goalscoring opportunities. These rotations allow him to come inside and operate in zones he’s more effective in, particularly inverted off the left in the half-space.
Arteta’s system requires the inversion of the full backs, which frees up the passing lane into the wingers. When Martinelli receives in these situations he can use his devastating 1v1 ability to beat a defender thanks to his lightning-quick feet and technical dribbling. He has superb ball control and possesses a sensational ability to create separation from defenders. He is the type of relentless player that just makes things happen.
This season, Martinelli’s had more space to attack with and without the ball, much thanks to the added physical qualities that Jesus brings. This combined with the improvement in final ball quality that Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fabio Vieira provide, will naturally lead to more goals than before. When you add to that his own personal development in physicality and intelligence, the sky is the limit for Martinelli.
As mentioned, he looks more physical than ever. He is winning duels and dusting off tackles like it’s nothing and he’s generating even more power in his ball striking – with both feet. He’s even been assigned to corner duties now. His development in strength and power combined with his already electrifying pace makes Martinelli an incredible athlete and, in turn, a superb outlet, presser and 1v1 dribbler.
His relentless running in behind during transitions is akin to that of Mo Salah. He even has that Salah-like ability to bring down a long diagonal switch with ease. He constantly has an eye on where the vacancies are in the channels of the opposition defence. Of course, he’s not yet as polished or as prolific as the Liverpool talisman, but when you factor this in with his industrious off-ball work it’s no wonder Jurgen Klopp is a huge admirer of the Brazilian.
Martinelli’s mentality would be adored by any coach in the world. He has a passionate love for the game and consistently shows a lot of responsibility during the defensive phase, sometimes even more than is expected from him. Described as a “Duracell battery” by Arsenal legend and former interim manager Freddie Ljungberg, Martinelli always wants to help his team in defence, which is especially important when playing against attack-minded full-backs.
Not only is he willing to work his socks off, but his determination to win duels and attack the box to score goals is elite. Even when he makes a run and a teammate doesn’t find him he doesn’t kick up a fuss. He just ploughs on and gets back into the position he’s supposed to be in.
In Arsenal’s system the team’s goalscoring responsibility is distributed across the front five players. However, given his qualities, you’d expect Martinelli to be right up there with Jesus (and Eddie Nketiah given more minutes) as the club’s top goalscorer this season.
He’s excellent at attacking the penalty area and positioning himself between defenders in the box. He doesn’t dictate attacks creatively like Bukayo Saka does on the other side, which is fine. It provides nice balance to the attack.
The talent Martinelli possesses was obvious even during his debut season under Unai Emery at just 18 years old. What’s really taken him to another level is learning how to “go up the gears”, as Arteta described at the back end of last year. Rather than constantly performing at 100 miles per hour, Martinelli is starting to control his sprints more intelligently now.
Slowing down, making the defender decelerate, before quickly bursting into a sprint again, makes it harder for the defender to beat him. It’s a skill that Arteta has previously been credited for drilling into Leroy Sane at Manchester City. He’s working under the optimal manager for his development, given the coach’s success with Sane, Saka and Raheem Sterling too.
Arsenal have a world-class talent on their hands in Gabriel Martinelli. At 21 years old, he has absolutely everything you need in a goalscoring wide forward. He offers plenty with his technicality and has incredible physical and mental qualities to go with it.
His goal against Leicester in August sums him up perfectly; play breaks down, he sprints back to win the ball back, releases it, attacks the space left by the discombobulated block, and unleashes a devastating strike off his weak foot into the bottom corner. He’s a manager’s dream to have at his disposal. Sure, he needs to develop his calmness and maturity on the ball, but that will come with time and experience. There’s no reason he can’t become a superstar in the years to come.
Both the club and the player will be keen to finalise a new long-term contract out in the near future, given how important he is for Mikel Arteta’s side. Arsenal’s levels will drop significantly if either Martinelli or Saka was to sustain an injury, given the lack of depth behind them so perhaps the club will look to bring in some competition for the pair in January.
As for now though, Martinelli is vying for a spot at the World Cup for his country. Competition for places is extremely rife but if he keeps up these top-class performances it’ll give Tite a welcomed selection headache come November.
By: James Lloyd / @Jlloyd2000
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / David Price – Arsenal FC