With Arsenal trailing in their Premier League clash against Manchester City, Mikel Arteta turned to his bench for answers. The call was to bring on Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith Rowe for Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard as he sought to find a goal that would draw them level.
In doing so, though, the Gunners boss snubbed one of his best and brightest attacking talents – Gabriel Martinelli.
After bursting onto the scene again following his return from injury in December, the Brazilian has played just 66 minutes since injuring himself in the warm up to the FA Cup third round tie with Newcastle last month.
Martinelli is a proven finisher who became the first Arsenal teenager to hit double figures in a single season since Nicolas Anleka last campaign, which is all the more impressive when you consider he missed the entirety of project restart through injury.
But those concerned should remember that the youngster only came back from that same long-term injury that ruled him out for half a year two months ago. As a result Mikel Arteta has already stressed his desire not to rush the Brazilian back too quickly.
“Time is the key word in this industry, and nobody is going to give you time!” Arteta said. “The moment the ball doesn’t go in the net and you lose a football match, you’re going to question all the rest, so with Gabi it’s the same. Now he needs time.”
Arteta has already expressed his admiration for Martinelli and spoke about him glowingly as he began to make his return to training last year.
“Gabi is another one that even in a moment of adversity you see him training and everything he brings and contributes to the team – his energy, his passion, his motivation – he is transmitting positive emotions to everybody,” he said.
“He tries and goes and goes again … he wants to score a goal and he is ruthless in training in every single action. “So the more players you have to add, in the end that gets translated into what happens on the football pitch. Over time you will be stable.
“He is another one who brings something different to the team, and we need players like him.” The Spaniard is a manager for the long-term rather than the immediate future, and he has already dropped a hint about where he sees Martinelli ending up in his team.
“[Aubameyang and Martinelli] are centre forwards but with the squad balance that we have at the moment, to play on those positions on the left we don’t have five players,” he said just before the lockdown in March 2020.
He backed up this assertion that the Brazilian’s future lay in the number nine position, by using him to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top during the first leg of the Gunners’ Europa League tie against Benfica last Thursday.
Patience is the key for Martinelli and he has already admitted that he is willing to bide his time before becoming a regular at the Emirates.
“I’m feeling very good,” he told ESPN. “I don’t feel any more pain on my knee and this is the most important thing. I’m ready (to play) when Mikel needs me.” “I’m working very hard (to start). Of course Auba plays in my position but I look to him every day, in every training, to learn as much as I can from him, he’s also a great guy off the pitch.
“I want to follow into Aubameyang’s footsteps, he’s a captain, he wears the No.14 shirt, that is a symbol for this club and of course, I hope to be very successful at Arsenal.”
Martinelli can do exactly that if his return back into the first team set up is managed with the caution it requires.
Arsenal have had their fingers burnt already by rushing players back too soon this season with Thomas Partey though and with the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal there is no need for Arteta to risk the 19-year-old who will be the star centre forward of his side for years to come.