Monday, January 17, 2022

A double Brazilian helps Arsenal find its G-spot

Morning all. A quick Friday blog for you.

Obviously the Gabriel in the spotlight right now is Martinelli. The young Brazilian was superb against West Ham on Wednesday, scored a fantastic goal, and – in my opinion anyway – had his best game for the club. In fact, since he was somewhat surprisingly thrown on as a substitute against Newcastle, a game in which he scored a goal so delicious they should name a dessert after it, he’s been very good.

After some early appearances in the season when he, and the team to be fair, struggled a little bit, it feels like he’s taken a step forward, and it has come at just the right time given everything else that’s going on with our forwards. After the West Ham game, I thought Mikel Arteta was quite interesting in what he said about him:

“He’s able to put some gears into his play. Sometimes he’s still doing everything at 100 miles per hour but the energy and quality he shows at times is top.”

It’s clear he’s someone who plays with a natural energy and enthusiasm, but knowing when to make runs, and understanding the way the game is going on around you, is really important. Not everyone plays at your pace, so you have to adjust to the timing of others. I think we’re seeing that now.

I don’t know if he’s been deliberately ‘held back’ to work on those aspects of his game, but we’re definitely seeing work on the training ground, coaching etc, come to fruition. What’s particularly impressive is that he can couple his attacking threat with such diligent work off the ball. There was a great example in the first half when he lost out in an aerial duel to Vladimir Coufal:

His reaction was brilliant. As the West Ham man drove infield, he put on the burners, sprinted after him, and inside four seconds won the ball back for us with one of the four successful tackles he made on the night.

For a team which doesn’t win the ball high up the pitch as often as we should, this is a nice development. There was another one just before half-time too where the usually rock-solid Declan Rice got his pocket picked by Martinelli, again reacting instantly to a turnover in possession. A potential West Ham counter was snuffed out immediately.

He has absolutely taken his chance in the last few games to become a much more regular feature in this team. I don’t think he’s a 100% nailed-on starter just yet, but the goal he scored against West Ham will certainly give the manager some pause for thought when he thinks about his centre-forward options in the coming weeks. The question of how we can get Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Saka and Odegaard into the team at the same time can be answered that way, whether we see that or not remains to be seen. For now though, it’s great to see him take this step forward – and for some extra reading on him, Tim’s column this week is just what you need.

However, he’s not the only Gabriel on our books, and behind him his compatriot, Gabriel Magalhes, has been quietly impressive since his introduction this season. I wanted to check the stats to see if he’s significantly different than he was last season, and the interesting thing is, he’s not really.

STAT2020-212021-22
PASSING ACCURACY89.3%91.3%
DUELS58.5%57.5%
AERIAL DUELS59.4%50%
INTERCEPTIONS5.25 per game4.15 per game
FOULS0.96 per game0.8 per game
CLEARANCES3 per game2.96 per game

The needle hasn’t really moved significantly in any of them, but perhaps a 10% reduction in aerial duel success this season is worth noting. However, I think this is one of those where stats versus eyes can tell you a slightly different story, because the Gabriel I see this year is more confident, more solid. A classic example of a player who has come from abroad, done pretty well in his first season, but in his second he’s settled, comfortable at his new club and life in a new country, and taking a step forward in his all-round game. There is no stat to measure presence, but he’s got more of it now.

Without wanting to flog a dead horse or anything, I also think the fact he doesn’t have someone like David Luiz around him is a help – on the pitch anyway (I’m sure he was very useful to his fellow Brazilian when he joined first). There’s a scene in the movie Boogie Nights when they visit a drug dealer who is playing loud music but at regular intervals firecrackers go off all around them. It’s incredibly tense. You just never know when the next crack is coming. That was what I felt like watching Luiz at Arsenal. You could never relax, because you knew calamity would come calling sooner or later.

The blossoming partnership between Gabriel and Ben White is a hugely important piece of this Arsenal puzzle. The lack of consistency at centre-half, and in the back four in general, has hurt us over the last few years, and with these two it looks like – fingers crossed – we’ve found something which might be in place for the medium-long term, and that can only be a good thing. They are both young, both still learning and mistakes will inevitably happen, but because of their profiles, they are mistakes they’ll learn from, not ones which are caused by their aging legs or a general tendency towards nonsense.

Right, I’m gonna leave it there for now. There’s a brand new Arsecast Extra for you if you haven’t had a chance to listen already, and we’ll have a preview podcast over on Patreon later.

Have a good one.

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