Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Martinelli’s successful Interlull – Pepe’s language barrier

When players go away on international duty, I have two thoughts in my mind. One, don’t get injured. Two, do well, so that when you come back to Arsenal you’re happy, confident and ready to go again.

As such, it’s been a good Interlull for Gabriel Martinelli who made his senior debut for Brazil last week, and last came on in the 54th minute of their 4-0 win over Bolivia and did this. Oof. I apologise for starting your morning with something that arousing, but holy moly what a goal that would have been if it had gone in.

It seems obvious to suggest there’s a lot more to come from this player, especially in front of goal. When you think about the ones he has scored this season, there have been some exceptional finishes. The over the shoulder volley against Newcastle; the recent top corner finish against Watford; his second against Leeds, where he dinked it over the keeper from close range. Sometimes it’s not the quantity that tells you about a player’s potential, but the quality.

Without re-litigating the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – because that is very much water under the bridge at this point – I think the main beneficiary has been Martinelli. I don’t think he’d have quite as many minutes if Auba was still around, and while Lacazette has taken the spot up front, the role of explosive presence in that inside left channel has gone to the young Brazilian.

His development this season has been clear. From Mikel Arteta talking about the gears he now has to his game, to the physical changes Martinelli himself referenced in a recent interview as he joined up with the Brazil squad:

I arrived here [at Arsenal] weighing 68kg, today I am 75kg. That makes a lot of difference to challenge for the ball. Of course you can’t lose speed, but I don’t think I did and I just gained muscle mass. You have to eat the right things too, that makes a lot of difference.

When I think about the three young forwards we have in Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, I fluctuate when it comes to who I consider the most exciting. The two Academy graduates have been fantastic this year, but there’s just something about Martinelli and what he could be capable of as an out and out forward (not necessarily a striker) that’s got so much potential. Hopefully he returns to England after this break flying and ready to go for the last 10 games, and those moments of individual brilliance can often be the difference in tight games.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Pepe has been talking about his season, and he’s fairly sanguine about his lack of playing time. As I mentioned last week, his major problem (if you want to call it that), is that he plays in the same position as Saka, and Saka brings a consistency to the team that Pepe just doesn’t. He can be sensational at times, but that can fluctuate too far the other way too often – sometimes in the same game.

I did find his comments about a language barrier interesting though. He said:

It is also about communication. Sometimes it’s not easy to communicate with the language barrier. It has been a tough season for me.

After the manager spoke last week about the importance of learning English, the language of the dressing room, you can’t help but wonder if that’s part of it. It must be an issue he feels with his teammates more than anything else, because Arteta speaks French.

It is worth pointing out that while learning the language is definitely the ideal thing for a player going to a new country, it doesn’t have to be perfect for them to perform on the pitch. Alexis Sanchez, for example, never really got to grips with English, while Sergio Aguero became Man City’s leading goalscorer of all time and he barely had much more than ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Conversely, I think Gabriel Paulista referenced the language as an impediment during his time here.

Some people just aren’t great with languages, Pepe might be one of those, so I’m not going to criticise if it’s a case his English isn’t brilliant. Maybe he could work at it more, but there could be more to it than we know. I also think a lot of people who speak English natively don’t understand how difficult it can be to learn, with its lack of pronunciation rules and all the rest. Anyway, as for Pepe, and what happens this summer, he said:

I am focused on how well we do until the end of the season and the club’s target, which is getting into the Champions League. Then we will see what happens.

With two years left on his deal, and at this point barely 600 Premier League minutes to his name, it seems likely we’ll consider a departure at the end of the season. However, we’re going to need him for the run-in, we may need him on Monday against Palace if Saka is still impacted by Covid, so let’s hope he can have what could be a successful last few months at the club.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Have a good one.

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