Arsenal’s “Talent of the Century” – Gabriel Martinelli is about to explode
Whilst it’s always nice to be subjected to high praise, especially when it originates from someone who stands at the top of their profession, the words “talent of the century” send shivers down the spines of Arsenal fans.
After a stunning 5-5 draw in October 2019, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was effusive in his praise of electric Arsenal and Brazil winger Gabriel Martinelli, 21, who scored two in an eventual defeat on penalties. Klopp has since doubled and even tripled down on his comments in the wake of a run of Liverpool wins against Mikel Arteta’s side.
The team performance in these games wasn’t always the best – Liverpool are somewhat a bogey team to many, but Arsenal in particular seem to struggle – however in recent seasons Martinelli has rarely failed to impress.
Last season’s performance in the fixture at the Emirates was particularly one to savour. The Brazilian was a constant thorn in Klopp’s side. Arsenal’s game plan was to create 1v1 situations for Martinelli against Trent Alexander-Arnold and the implementation of that was to build play down the right-hand side through overloads, before launching a quick switch of play over to the Brazilian on the left.
The Gunners had some success with this isolation approach, and it allowed Martinelli to showcase firstly the technical brilliance he possesses. Some of the close control and dribbling ability on show throughout last season and the limited sample size we have of this season, is simply astounding. Countless times fans watch in awe as he brings down a ball over his shoulder perfectly in stride, before weaving his way through oncoming traffic at frightening velocity. His speed of thought and ability to execute on the back of that is striking.
Against Liverpool Martinelli took the ball on the left, shimmied past Alexander-Arnold and Luis Diaz, nutmegged Jordan Henderson and beat the generational English right-back again before slamming a cutback into a frustratingly empty six-yard box from an Arsenal perspective. It was an electrifying run, reminiscent of some of the pantheon of Brazilian attackers to have graced a football pitch. The Emirates was forced to breathe a sigh of exasperation as Martinelli was denied one of the great assists by a simple lack of presence up front.
The absence of said presence hampered Martinelli all season. He has the elite technical foundations, but with Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard sitting wide on the other side of the pitch, he rarely had players to combine with to produce the end product that he has been missing.
Enter Gabriel Jesus. Despite playing only three competitive games for Arsenal, the former Manchester City striker has had a talismanic and transformative effect on the team, and Martinelli in particular. Jesus’ mobility and active nature means that he is constantly popping up all over the pitch and he has shown a particular penchant to move over to the left wing. This allows Martinelli to fill a more central lane in Arteta’s positional attack.
During last weekend’s win over Leicester we saw the two Brazilians dovetail seamlessly despite playing together for less than 2 months. They left with 3 goals and 3 assists between them on the day. Against Bournemouth, a jaw-dropping run from the number 9 led to him slipping Martinelli in on goal; a move which culminated in the first of Martin Ødegaard’s goals as Arsenal proceeded to comfortably beat the Cherries.
A much-improved Arsenal attack, aided by the progressive Oleksandr Zinchenko, repurposed Granit Xhaka and increased tactical cohesion gives Martinelli the platform to shine.
What Martinelli has added to his game is a certain playmaking ability. With increased frequency we have seen him attempt fierce in-swinging crosses, slide-rule passes, intricate passing combinations on the edge of the box. Coupled with his elite ability to strike the ball on either foot (see his goal against Leicester), at 21 the signs are there that he could become a complete player.
Martinelli has the playing environment and the ability, but the final element completing this trifecta is arguably the most important – mentality. It is a rare sight for anyone to have worked harder on a football pitch that they shared with the Brazilian. His pressing is just as relentless in minute 1 as it is in minute 90. Against sides that attempt to overload the wings, Mikel Arteta can rely unequivocally on the Brazilian to track his runner with intensity.
Martinelli strives to be the best. He seems to thrive the better the opposition. We have touched on his performance against Liverpool. Against Manchester City, in one of Arsenal’s performances of last season, it was a similar story with a different victim in João Cancelo.
Importantly, he has flourished against two of the best teams in world football. Every time he touched the ball in those games, fans rose in hopeful expectation. His energy is infectious, and he represents the perfect symbol for a team whose promise and potential has galvanised an entire fanbase. The one thing missing is end product.
At the time of writing, Martinelli has 2 goals in 3 premier league games this season. The stage is set for everything to click for a prodigious talent. If he can find the goals that his ability dictates, £6m from Ituano will look like one of the transfer deals of the century – for the “talent of the century”.
Andre Mederick, @goonerameds