Noises coming out of Gabriel Martinelli’s camp are that the Brazilian youngster is unhappy at the amount of game time he is currently getting at Arsenal. And he is right to be upset.
Any young player that is not upset about a lack of game time clearly does not have the drive and desire to force their way into the first team.
But just because Martinelli desires to play more, it does not mean that Mikel Arteta is in the wrong to not pick him.
The path to the first team at Arsenal for Martinelli is a crowded one. It is hard to make a case for him to be starting ahead of any of those ahead of him.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the best striker at the club. Yes, he had a tough game against Watford but it would be impssobile to make a case that Martinelli should be starting ahead of him.
With 7 goals in 11 games this season, Aubameyang is back playing with a smile on his face.
What Martinelli needs to do is take his chance when he gets it, just like Alexandre Lacazette did.
After two underwhelming performances against Crystal Palace and Brighton, Martin Odergaard was dropped for the game against Aston Villa.
Up stepped Lacazette who helped inspire Arsenal to an impressive 3-1 win. Lacazette then kept his place for the games against Leicester City and Watford.
If Aubameyang was out injured, or had a drop in form, it would be Lacazette that comes in for him and not Martinelli.
Arteta would push Lacazette back up top and Odergaard would return into the middle of the park behind him.
To put simply, for Martinelli to get a chance upfront – or Eddie Nketiah or Folarin Balogun – he needs a complete loss of form or injury to both Aubameyang and Lacazette.
Some of Martinelli’s best performances for Arsenal came on the wide left; but again he faces stiff competition.
Over the summer, Emile Smith Rowe was in a similar position as Martinelli.
Lacking consistent game team, he had an opportunity to leave and join Aston Villa.
Smith Rowe rejected their advances, signed a new contract, changed his diet and has been rewarded with his first England cap on Friday night.
Some might try and make a case that Martinelli should start ahead of Smith Rowe on the left, but that case will be weak and quickly thrown out of court.
Moving across the 3 behind the striker we see Odergaard dropped for Lacazette.
There have been no murmerings of discontent from Odergaard as he is a mature young man who will understand that Arteta will unlikely change a winning team. He knows he will get his chance(s) again.
Martinelli has never really played in behind a striker for Arsenal, but even if he did you would have to think he was behind Lacazette, Odergaard, Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
What would likely happen if Arsenal had a crisis at 10 would be Smith Rowe drops inside and another option used wide left.
Then we have the battle for Arsenal’s right between Saka and Nicolas Pepe.
Saka is currently is posession of the shirt with Pepe battling for his chances. Martinelli will not get a sniff on that side of the pitch.
As a young player lacking game time, you have two routes to take your career.
Knuckle down, improve your game and force your way into the managers plans or leave, take a step down and get that game time at a lesser club in the hope that your performances will see another top club pick you up further down the line.
Smith Rowe picked the former and is now one of the first names on the teamsheet for Arsenal.
It is easy to forget that Martinelli is still just 20-years-old.
He was not expected to make the impact he did so soon after signing – he was infact expected to spend a year in the academy.
He scored 10 in 26 in 2019/20 before injury curtailed his development.
2020/21 was a tough one for him as he struggled to return to fitness – his knee injury kept him out for nearly 12 months.
Arsenal were slowly and delibrate with his rehabilitation ensuring that they did not rush him back.
In that 12 months out, we saw the continual improvement of Saka and the break through of Smith Rowe.
Martinelli will still be very much part of Arteta’s plans.
Smith Rowe will pick up an injury, or will have a drop in form. At that point Martinelli will come in and will need to take his chance. make himself undroppable when Smith Rowe returns.
There is also Arsenal’s forward line to consider.
Lacazette is likely to leave this summer alongside Nketiah. Aubameyang has just 12 months left on his contract.
Over the next 18 months, Martinelli needs to do enough in training and in the opportunities he gets on the pitch to make it clear to Arteta (and Edu) that he can replace Lacazette as Aubameyang’s back-up.
And then 12 months further down the line he might have done enough to replace Aubameyang as a regular starter. He would still be just 22.
Alternatively Arsenal might opt to sign a bigger name striker that suits Arteta’s play a little more (he seems to be wanting a Olivier Giroud type pivot striker that the 3 behind can then play off). If that happens, Martinelli still needs to be putting his hand up and position himself as the back up option.
Martinelli has suffered this year due to a lack of European football. This has led to less oportunities both in Europe and in the League Cup for Arsenal’s fringe players.
We have played just 14 games this season against 18 at the same stage of the 2020/21 season (game week 11 of the Premier League).
Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Cedric Soares, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah all join Martinelli on 5 or less starts this season.
Had we been in Europe, with the extra 4 games to play, all would have featured a lot more than they have.
So what are Martinelli’s options?
- Get his head down and take his chance – Smith Rowe will pick up an injury or have a drop in form. Martinelli needs to do enough on the training pitch to force Arteta to pick him, and then do enough on the pitch to make himself undroppable
- Push for a 6 month loan deal – Martinelli could see the bigger picture at Arsenal and realise he is still just 20. Push for a loan deal somewhere that he would get regular first team football upfront (not back in Brazil though). that would allow him to remind Arteta of what he can do and become Lacazette’s replacement for next season.
The only downside of this option is it would leave Arsenal short of wide men; so it is a move that Arteta might not be keen on
- Demand a transfer – Throw your toys out of the pram, demand a transfer, take the step down to a lower level like Emiliano Martinez did and hope that a top club picks him up in 12 months time. This would be a short sighted decision by Martinelli that could see him spending a few years in mid-table wilderness.
The reason Martinelli is not playing regularly for Arsenal is because there are better, more inform players ahead of him.
January will see Aubameyang and Pepe head off to the African Cup of Nations for a month. This will be the most obvious opportunity for Martinelli to get some game time.
He is clearly a talented player, but is still very young.
I hope Martinelli goes down the route of putting in 100% in training and he takes the opportunities when they arise.
He needs to look at Smith Rowe for inspiration.