Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Martinelli likes it on the left, but we may need him elsewhere at times

Morning folks.

For all the post-match reaction to Arsenal Women’s 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg in the Champions League last night, head on over to Arseblog News, Tim has got you covered there.

The equaliser came late, but what a touch and finish it was from Lotte Wubben-Moy:


She said afterwards:

What a dream. Scoring in a Champions League quarter final. At the Emirates. Pinch me. Thanks for all the fans who came out tonight. Looking forward to Thursday’s away leg in Wolfsburg.

Game on. Let’s hope they can do the business against tough opposition, a side that beat Chelsea 4-0 earlier in this competition.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Martinelli is away on international duty with Brazil, and doing media duties we’ve found out a couple of interesting things. The interview he did with ‘local’ press was probably the kind of thing all new call-ups to the national side get, pretty soft questions, nothing too controversial, but he did speak a bit about where he likes to play:

I prefer to play on the wings, the left side specifically. But I also like to reach the area a lot with a chance to finish, so if the ball is left I’ll be in a good position to score. I can also play on the right side, but my favorite position is on the left wing, cutting inside and being as close to the goal as possible.

That’s where he has played most for us in his career here, and certainly this season. Of his 15 Premier League starts, only one has been on the right hand side, and that was the 3-2 defeat to Man Utd when Emile Smith Rowe started on the left. I don’t think too many would argue that this is probably his best position, but where it gets interesting is how willing we might be to use him somewhere else.

As it stands, we have two recognised centre-forwards: Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah. At the moment, the plan seems to be play the former for as long as possible, then use the latter to provide some ‘fresh legs’ in the closing stages of games. I haven’t been overly impressed with Eddie in these cameos. Yes, he had a part to play in the comeback against Wolves, but I find his low-energy approach somewhat frustrating in games when we’re hanging onto the lead.

I will say this: he may well be doing exactly what the manager wants and not just running around like a headless chicken and getting caught out of position, but from a distance it’s hard to see a 22 year old who should have all the running power in the world due to how little he’s played this season just shuffle across the front line when the opposition are in possession.

On top of that, his general play has been unconvincing. He has fluffed his lines in front of goal more than once, most memorably against Everton when his late close range header would have seen us take three points but instead we fell victim to their late winner; I can recall some moments late in games when we were hanging on when he needed to just keep the ball deep in the opposition half and he handed possession back to them; and as we saw against Villa on Saturday, he was clumsy, fell over at a key moment, and it’s hard to make a case that even with scant minutes he has made the most of them.

So, at what point do we think about something different? Not necessarily in terms of starting – although I think we could see on Saturday that three games in a week has an obvious impact on Lacazette’s contribution (just 7 passes completed from 10 attempted) – but how we manage the latter stages of games. Would we be better using Martinelli as a centre-forward option? The other side of that, assuming we’re not suffering any injuries/absences, is that the three behind him would likely be Smith Rowe, Saka and Odegaard – a striker/forward combination that would give opposition defences more to think about than if you had Eddie up top.

The reality is Nketiah has rejected contract offers, and will more than likely leave the club this summer. I’m absolutely sure he is professional and will give his best to the team every time he’s asked to play, but it’s not an ideal scenario. At some point the idea of self-preservation must go off in the back of your mind if you’re a player whose next move is entirely contingent on you being fit to attract potential suitors, pass medicals etc. Subconsciously, is there an impact on your performance?

Famously, in his final season when he was into the last 12 months of his contract, Sylvain Wiltord barely got a look in under Arsene Wenger. It was much easier for him to be fair, he still had players like Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Nwanko Kanu, Jose Antonio Reyes, and the then up and coming Jeremie Aliadiere, to choose from. Arteta certainly doesn’t have that luxury, but as we head towards these final 10 games, he should be thinking about how we can get more from what we have, and if that means redeployment of certain players rather than just hoping it might be different with the same sub every time, it’s worth a go.

Till tomorrow.

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