Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Gabriel Martinelli: Patience and reward

Right now, it’s quite funny to think back to a time when there was a lot of chatter about how Mikel Arteta didn’t like Gabriel Martinelli.

That was the only possible explanation for his absence from the team. This despite the manager making it very clear he thought there was a player of huge potential there but one who needed a bit of time.

January 2021: “I expect big things from Gabi.”

March 2021: “He’s really disappointed that he’s not playing more obviously, and I have spoken to him, but he needs to be a little bit patient. He had some minutes, he had some games as well, and it’s true that the competition for the front places is very tough. He needs to be patient, and he will get his chance.”

April 2021: “We have to be a little bit patient with him but he has a bright future at the club and he will have all the opportunities that he needs to show us how good he is and the career he can have with us.”

To be fair, a lot of the clamour for Martinelli came at a time when the other options were far from perfect. We had periods of Aubameyang out wide, we had to endure Willian for half a season, and Nicolas Pepe was never consistent. So it’s understandable that fans wanted to see more of a player who been so exciting in his first season.

However, he did have a big knee injury, and it came at a time when he was still developing physically. I do think there’s something to the suggestion that Arteta was perhaps a bit cautious about going for youth over experience at times, but with Martinelli it felt more about how ready they deemed him for regular first team action. Comparisons were drawn with Phil Foden at Man City, a player who their fans wanted to see more of but whose powder was kept dry by Pep Guardiola.

It’s an interesting one, because in both cases you could easily say both managers were fairly well justified in how they took their time with two extremely talented players. Foden is tearing it up this season after a very good campaign last time around, and Martinelli has emerged as potentially our best player so far this season. I don’t say that lightly either. We’ve seen some excellent individual form this season, and Gabriel Jesus has probably added more to our game overall, but in terms of a player taking a step forward and adding consistent end product, the young Brazilian is top of the charts for me.

Speaking last week, Martinelli talked about how much he had learned tactically over the last little while, and how his game had developed because of that. A measure of patience brings some reward.

In the season preview, I wrote this about him:

I’m happy watching him cause havoc off the left flank but we need more end product. He’s electric, exciting, more than capable of roasting opponents with his direct running but there were games last season where he did the hard work and then fluffed his lines. He’s still young and these things take time but he’ll know it more than anyone that it’s time for lift off.

We are in orbit. Only Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Magalhaes have played more minutes this season, and in some way that’s down to necessity as we don’t quite have the depth we need for full Europa League rotation. Martinelli has started every Premier League game so far, and while part of that might be down to the injury absence of Emile Smith Rowe, his performances have been so good that he’d have been hard done by to lose his place.

To do what he did against Liverpool on Sunday showed just how far he’s come. Arsenal fans don’t need any more evidence we’ve got a hell of a player on our hands, but sometimes there’s a performance which announces someone onto the big stage, and this felt like that for him on Sunday. Regardless of Liverpool’s recent shakiness, he gave Trent a torrid time, and Joe Gomez didn’t fare much better. A goal, an assist, and relentless drive which caused them problems and ultimately led to the penalty – you can’t ask for much more from someone who turned 21 just a few months ago.

His future is a topic of conversation but he signed a long-term deal back in 2020. However, 2020 Martinelli was a player of potential; 2022 Martinelli is the real deal now, and as such deserves new terms to ensure his salary is commensurate to his contribution to the team. He says:

“Of course, I want to stay. We are talking. Let’s see what is going to happen. But I want to stay, of course.”

It feels like this should be about as easy a deal to do as it gets. A player who wants to stay, whose value to the team is growing all the time, and who deserves a better deal. There’s always negotiation, but the overriding circumstances mean this one shouldn’t be especially complicated.

Patience as a virtue is something which makes sense when you say it, but it’s not always as easy to live it. In this case though, we’re seeing the benefits of ensuring a player is introduced without putting too much of a burden on him. When opportunity knocked hard after the departure of Aubameyang, Martinelli feels – from an internal perspective – like the biggest beneficiary. And the exciting part is there’s still much more to come.

Let’s leave it there for this morning. If you haven’t had a chance to listen already, the Arsecast Extra is below, discussing and enjoying the win over Liverpool, and lots more. Happy listening.

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