MARTINELLI’S GOT HIS MOJO BACK
Arsenal’s electric Brazil winger has responded to being dropped by firing four goals in three games
LATE on Wednesday evening, as they filed out of the changing room and into the north London night, several members of Arsenal’s squad — fresh from a 4-0 win over Everton — paused for one final engagement.
A small group of supporters found themselves between the players and the door.
Oleksandr Zinchenko stopped to say hello. So did William Saliba. The Frenchman crouched down to pose for photos and then hunched over to sign a shirt. Saliba’s cult status has continued to snowball since he returned from loan in the summer.
Here, though, he scribbled his signature beneath the name and number of a team-mate. ‘Martinelli 11’ has become an increasingly common sight around the Emirates this season as the Brazilian has developed from promising youngster into one of Mikel Arteta’s most potent weapons. No wonder Martinelli was a wanted man when he too emerged from the Emirates.
It wasn’t long ago that the shoe was on the other foot. As a teenager, Martinelli, now 21, took pictures with Paul Pogba and met Zlatan Ibrahimovic during several trials at Manchester United.
Everything was in place for the winger to move to Old Trafford but United decided they didn’t want the then 17-year-old.
Question marks over Martinelli’s ceiling lingered even after he joined Arsenal. Until recently, in fact — until the first half of this season, when the Brazilian gave us something else to ponder: is there a more threatening winger in the Premier League?
Martinelli’s pace, trickery and fearless running earned him a new contract with Arsenal to reflect his swelling importance. But within 15 days of that deal being announced, he was left on the bench for Arsenal’s visit to Aston Villa, replaced by January signing Leandro Trossard.
In the eyes of many, it was about time, too. Martinelli’s levels had been waning for a while. He hadn’t scored since the end of 2022 and looked to be feeling the strain of a packed calendar. All the while, Manchester City appeared to be turning the title race in their favour.
Since his 68th-minute introduction at Villa Park, however, Martinelli’s record reads: three appearances, four goals.
He is back in the team, back in the goals and back as a difference maker. Martinelli hit the winner against Leicester, the vital second goal against Everton and the injury-time fourth against Villa. All without rediscovering the threat and thrust of before. In that sense, he has become an encapsulation of Arteta’s Arsenal team. Earlier this season, he embodied their daring, front-foot style, built on energy and youth. Now, he reflects the team’s recent fortunes: they are not playing with quite the same verve and rhythm, but still the league leaders are picking up results.
Perhaps only Bukayo Saka has survived this dip. He continues to embrace the role of Arsenal’s beating heart. His brilliant goal, which put them on course for victory against Everton, took his tally for the season to 10 — one fewer than Martinelli, whose double on Wednesday means he averages a goal every 183 minutes.
Together, they make Arsenal the only Premier League team with two players on 10-plus goals. No matter that opposition sides now double up on each winger.
Across all competitions, they have had 16 different scorers this season; Arsenal’s 56 goals across 25 league games is as many as they managed in the whole of Arteta’s first season. It all means that they are not hostage to one striker’s form or fitness.
The arrival of Trossard has given Arteta greater depth and a forward more akin to Gabriel Jesus. Unlike Eddie Nketiah, a fine penalty-box striker, Trossard’s movement across the pitch pulls defences apart and opens doors for Martinelli. For the winner against Leicester, Trossard drifted to the left, allowing Martinelli to drive inside and score.
For Saka’s goal against Everton, Martinelli did the door-opening, moving from his starting position on the left wing to the right wing, while Trossard moved out to the left and Saka took advantage of the space in the No 9 channel to score. From a pass by Zinchenko, by the way, a left back who was in the centre of midfield.
Martinelli’s winner against Leicester was the type of pattern familiar before Christmas, when his relationship with Jesus and Granit Xhaka was a vital part of Arsenal’s success.
With his compatriot Jesus nearing a return, who knows how many more goals he can grab, and how many more shirts he will be asked to sign.
ARSENAL and Manchester United are keen on Southampton’s midfield starlet romeo Lavia. The Belgian, 19, is also in Chelsea’s sights. Lavia joined Saints from Manchester City last summer in a £14million deal.