What next for Martinelli, a player on the fringes for Arsenal and Brazil? (2024)

When Brazil begin their Copa America campaign against Costa Rica, Gabriel Martinelli is expected to be named on the bench.

It is a role he has been forced to become accustomed to. Martinelli, previously an automatic pick for manager Mikel Arteta, was a substitute for nine of Arsenal’s final 10 league games last season.


It was a disappointing end to a decidedly mixed year. The hard numbers do not read well: after 15 goals and five Premier League assists in 2022-23, he dropped to six league goals and four assists last season.

But Arsenal’s faith in the 23-year-old is not shaken. Under contract until at least 2027, he remains an important part of Arteta’s plans. Arsenal’s decision-makers believe last season was an anomaly in Martinelli’s development, and that he will kick on again next season.

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His participation in the run-in was severely impacted by the injury suffered during March’s 6-0 win over Sheffield United.

Before that, he had looked to be finding his best form. In the first game after Arsenal’s winter break, Martinelli came off the bench to score twice against Crystal Palace. He then started the next six matches as Arsenal steamrollered through opposition such as Liverpool, Newcastle United and West Ham United. In the Sheffield United game, Martinelli had already recorded a goal and an assist. He appeared well on the way to finding his best form — and then injury struck.

The incident was innocuous enough. Martinelli’s attempted shot was blocked by the outstretched boot of Anel Ahmedhodzic. The collision caused a laceration to Martinelli’s heel that made running uncomfortable, and with Arsenal cruising, the Brazilian was substituted.

After the game, Arteta initially described the injury as a “light cut”.Concerns deepened, however, when Martinelli limped away from Bramall Lane on crutches.

It transpired Martinelli had suffered a nasty, deep cut to the bottom of his heel that required stitches. The healing process was also more complicated than initially hoped.

With hugely important games in the Premier League and Champions League to come, every effort was made to get Martinelli back playing as soon as possible. Adidas staff even visited him soon after the injury to assess the situation and supply him with a boot that provided more comfort and support. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved — Martinelli, Arsenal’s medical staff and Adidas — he did not return to playing without pain until near the end of the season.


Martinelli was pressed into action for the two Champions League games against Bayern Munich, but those were his only starts between the Sheffield United game on March 4 and the final day of the season on May 19. Beyond the injury, Martinelli’s case for the starting XI was not helped by two other key factors: the excellent form of Leandro Trossard and Arteta’s propensity to stick with a winning team during the run-in.

What next for Martinelli, a player on the fringes for Arsenal and Brazil? (1)

Even when fit, Martinelli is no longer a certain starter for Arsenal (David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

There are other mitigating circ*mstances to consider when evaluating Martinelli last season. He operates on the extremities of Arsenal’s left side, which significantly evolved across the season.

Arsenal lost their left-sided central midfielder, Granit Xhaka, in the summer of 2023. Kai Havertz initially took on the role, before Declan Rice was shifted into a more advanced position. Arsenal chopped and changed their left-back, with Jurrien Timber, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Jakub Kiwior and Takehiro Tomiyasu all appearing in that position. None of those players are particularly inclined to make the overlapping runs that Ben White uses to draw markers away from Bukayo Saka on the other side of the pitch.

Comparisons are frequently drawn between Martinelli and Saka — but the Brazilian has failed to build the type of relationships Saka has developed with White and Martin Odegaard. When Arteta and Edu are considering the future development of the team, the left flank requires considerably more focus than the right.

Then there’s the change in how opponents approach playing against Arsenal. Arteta’s team are coming up against a low block with increasing regularity. By the time the ball reaches Martinelli, he is often double-marked.

Arsenal know Martinelli is at his best when one-on-one with a defender, or running in behind. They need to engineer a way to make that happen more often. Earlier, more direct passes from defence and midfield could be the key to unlocking Martinelli’s full potential. Few things are more frightening for a full-back than the sight of Martinelli haring after a long diagonal into the channel.


There are things he can do better, too. In the 2022-23 season, his dribble success rate was 50.4 per cent. Last season, that figure dropped to 36.6 per cent. Coming up against congested defences may force the Brazil international to innovate and change approach.

He was remarkably clinical with his finishing in 2022-23, scoring 15 goals from 8.93 expected goals (xG). That level of over-performance is rarely sustained. Last year, his xG was similar (6.85), but he finished with just six goals. Some of this can be explained as a natural regression.

Then there are those things that the data doesn’t show — the momentary hesitation, the extra touch before the shot. When players are confident, finishing becomes automatic. Martinelli never quite found his flow last season.

The Copa America, however, provides an excellent opportunity to relaunch himself. Despite an indifferent end to the season with Arsenal, he remains an important figure in the Brazil squad. Martinelli is competing in an area of the pitch where manager Dorival Junior has a wealth of options, including Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior and 17-year-old Endrick, at his disposal. Nevertheless, he continues to make a good impression as a rotation option and impact substitute and is fit despite suffering a dead leg in training last week.

Beyond that, his focus is on returning to his best form with Arsenal.

“I’m going to work hard to make it happen,” he told the media last week. “I’m going to do my best to get to Arsenal in the best condition possible. I hope it will be a year of many joys for Arsenal and for me. I hope to help my team with goals, assists, with good performances. I’m going to prepare a lot because it’s going to be a long season again.”

(Top photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images)

What next for Martinelli, a player on the fringes for Arsenal and Brazil? (2)What next for Martinelli, a player on the fringes for Arsenal and Brazil? (3)

James McNicholas has covered Arsenal extensively for more than a decade. He has written for ESPN, Bleacher Report and FourFourTwo Magazine, and is the co-host of the Arsecast Extra Podcast. Follow James on Twitter @gunnerblog

What next for Martinelli, a player on the fringes for Arsenal and Brazil? (2024)
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