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Arsenal: the intriguing quote that suggests Mikel Arteta could yet use Gabriel Martinelli as a centre forward

Gabriel Martinelli
(Image credit: Getty)

Gabriel Martinelli hasn’t started for Arsenal since the 0-0 draw against Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium in January - where he was substituted at half-time. Despite his brief playing time this season though, Martinelli is still said to be highly valued by manager Mikel Arteta.

So where does he fit into the Gunners’ ever-improving system? The integration of Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard, the continued blossoming of 19-year-old Bukayo Saka and academy starlet Emile Smith Rowe coming into the side has given Arteta plenty of options behind either captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette up front. What’s more, Arsenal fans have enjoyed good form from the likes of Willian and Nicolas Pepe, who have infuriated Gooners this season with patchy performances but recently looked a lot more stable.

Martinelli has often functioned on the left of Arteta’s front three when he’s played. This would suggest that his future could well be to slot into the team as an inside forward, offering pace and directness in a similar way to Saka on the other side.

When FourFourTwo spoke to Arteta last season, however, after a win against West Ham United at home - the last game before lockdown - the Arsenal manager was keen to stress that he didn’t see Martinelli as a winger, as such. 

“[Aubameyang and Martinelli] are [centre forwards],” Arteta told us, “but with the squad balance that we have at the moment, to play on those positions on the left we don’t have players.”

“We are using one [left-winger] to play as a left-back [Saka] and he is not a left-back so we’re just trying to adapt to the situation that we have today, trying to create an amount of goal threat that can be successful for the team. That’s part of managing the players that we have.”

That would certainly suggest that Arteta still sees Martinelli as an out-and-out striker, similar to Aubameyang’s mould. With the Gabonese forward playing more through the middle for Arsenal since Christmas, too, it would seem that Martinelli could well have a future there as well.

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There are rumours around Arsenal right now that Martinelli is receiving extra one-on-one tuition from his manager in order to improve his all-round game as a striker. The Brazilian is an excellent header of the ball, has superb pace and his pressing game shows exactly the kind of intensity that Arteta demands from his squad.

Since Arsenal could be set to lose three strikers this summer, Martinelli’s move to the central berth could be welcome. Alexandre Lacazette is approaching the last year of his contract, with the Frenchman struggling to impress consistently since joining the club in 2017. Roma are said to be monitoring the situation.

Two academy graduates, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun, have both struggled for game-time too; it’s thought that the club are ready to cash in on Balogun, who is running his contract down, while Nketiah has failed to prove that he could be the long-term answer in the striker role when Lacazette eventually leaves the club. 

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