Where is Gabriel Martinelli?
Despite being fit and available for selection, Gabriel Martinelli did not even make the bench for Sunday’s victory over Tottenham in the North London derby. This raises the question – why have we not seen more of Martinelli since his return from injury?
Gabriel Martinelli signed for Arsenal in July 2019, at the tender age of 18. The youngster was signed from Brazilian side Ituano, for £6m – which now looks like a real bargain! Martinelli had a stellar first season in North London, scoring 10 goals and assisting 4 times in 26 appearances, across all competitions.
Gabi’s impressive form saw him become the first teenager to score 10 goals for Arsenal in a single season, since Nicolas Anelka in 1998-99. His goal against Chelsea in the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, which involved a 67-yard sprint across the pitch, was voted Arsenal’s Goal of the Season by fans. Martinelli’s impressive performances earnt him immense praise from some of the biggest names in football; Ronaldinho compared his young compatriot to Ronaldo Nazario, while Jurgen Klopp hailed the Brazilian as the ‘talent of the century.’
However, a combination of COVID-19 and a serious knee injury forced Martinelli into a 9 month spell on the sideline. The 19 year-old required surgery to repair a lesion in the cartilage of his left knee, following a training injury in June – just four days after Arsenal’s return to Premier League action as part of Project Restart.
The Brazilian made his much anticipated return from injury on 19th December 2020, coming off the bench for the final 20 minutes of the 2-1 loss to Everton. He then started 3 days later in the Carabao Cup Quarter Final, assisting Alexandre Lacazette’s equaliser in an eventual 4-1 defeat to finalists Manchester City.
But just 3 weeks after his return, Martinelli had to be replaced in the starting line-up after sustaining another injury; this time in the warm-up against Newcastle United, in the FA Cup 3rd Round. Thankfully, the injury wasn’t severe, and Martinelli was only absent for one game. However, the 19 year-old has made just 4 cameo appearances since (in 2021) – so why have we seen so little of our young star?
One explanation seems to be the wealth of options Arsenal have in the attacking areas. Speaking after the victory over Leicester at the end of February, Mikel Arteta was asked about Martinelli’s lack of minutes and responded by saying – “Everybody has raised the level in recent weeks. Since Christmas, the front players have given us something different.” Pépé and Willian have indeed stepped up in recent weeks, but not even giving Martinelli a chance to show his qualities has frustrated many Gunners’ fans.
Another possible option for his continued absence is protection from injury. At just 19 years of age, Gabi already has a history with injuries. Surgery on his left knee ruled him out for 6 months, before an ankle sprain saw him visit the treatment room for a brief spell. Given Martinelli’s age and the physicality of the Premier League, could Arteta be trying to shield Martinelli from another potentially damaging injury?
There are also several reports that a disagreement between Arteta and Martinelli have resulted in the youngster’s recent omission. A year ago, Arteta claimed Martinelli’s best position was at centre forward, contradicting Martinelli’s admission that his preferred position is left wing. However, a fall out between the pair seems unlikely – given Arteta’s serious disciplinary measures, I’m sure it would’ve been addressed if the manager was unhappy with his behaviour. You only have to look at Aubameyang being dropped against Tottenham for being late, or Guendouzi’s exile to Hertha Berlin as examples.
After much speculation, Martin Keown has recently called for an ‘explanation’ from Mikel Arteta as to the Brazilian’s continued absence, after he’s played just 66 minutes of Premier League and Europa League football in 2021.
Whatever the reason for Gabriel Martinelli’s absence, it is surprising that a player of such importance has recently faded into relative obscurity. Hopefully, for the sake of Arsenal fans, Martinelli’s situation improves soon and we get to see the extremely talented youngster back on the pitch in the not too distant future.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons