As Arsenal lay in tenth place a staggering 40 points behind leaders Liverpool with over a third of the season still to go, thoughts invariably turn to the future.
With the Unai Emery experiment being deemed a failure after 18 months of strife and struggle, the spotlight now falls upon Mikel Arteta in his maiden tenure as a Head Coach.
As Arteta continues to get his feet under the table metaphorically speaking, he is no doubt evaluating the playing staff he inherited from Emery.
High on his radar is likely to be Gabriel Martinelli, the 18-year-old Brazilian of Italian origin, of whom there are great expectations. Given the squad number of 35, the quick-paced forward has already been allowed to shine in what can diplomatically only be described as a ‘Season of Transition’ at the Emirates.
So far, the signs are that he has every intention of making the most of the opportunity afforded.
Born in June 2001 in Guarulhos, Brazil, to mixed Brazilian- Italian parentage, Martinelli began his career playing futsal before switching to the regular game and being signed by Brazilian side Ituano. It was here that he made his professional debut at the age of 16. Quickly making his mark in the team, the goals soon started rattling in and the attention of overseas scouts and teams was quickly attracted.
Barcelona and Manchester United were amongst the sides showing an interest in Martinelli, and he was invited to first Old Trafford and then the Nou Camp for training.
According to him, he found the experience in Barcelona particularly to be one of great benefit. Upon his return to Ituano he remarked, “It was one of the best experiences I have had in football, because, in addition to being one of the biggest clubs in the world, the level of demand in training is very high and made me grow a lot in football, both in quality and in tactics”.
Also declaring that he did not quite feel ready to move overseas at such an early stage in his career, it then came as a bit of a shock when he signed for Arsenal in July 2019 in a deal worth a reputed £6 million.
Seen as one for the future, Martinelli nevertheless made his competitive debut for the Gunners as a late substitute in their opening-day Premier League victory over Newcastle.
His style of play has been described as ‘adaptable and yet energetic’. He can play straight down the middle as an out-and-out centre forward type of player or pushed further wide, He has the ability to cross the ball with either foot and so as his career develops he could find himself being deployed more on either wing as an alternative.
Making his first start for Arsenal in a 5-0 Carabao Cup victory over Nottingham Forest, Martinelli impressed by scoring two goals in a performance that was widely praised by Emery and others. His next start came shortly afterwards when Standard Liege were put to the sword at the Emirates in the Europa League to the tune of a 4-0 scoreline. Again Martinelli starred, and again he helped himself to a brace of goals.
By now people were beginning to sit up and take notice of the Martinelli name and a further two goals in Arsenal’s 5-5 draw at Anfield in the next round of the Carabao Cup did his fledgeling reputation no harm at all. It was Martinelli’s performance at Anfield that led Jurgen Klopp to describe him as ‘the talent of the century’.
After the dismissal of Emery, Martinelli made his first start in the Premier League against West Ham and also scored his first league goal in a 3-1 win. By the time he had also netted in games against Chelsea and Sheffield United, he had already made history in becoming the first teenager to score double figures in a debut season for Arsenal since Nicolas Anelka.
Having already pushed himself to at least the fringes of a regular starting spot after just half a season in England, the future looks bright for the Brazilian who notes Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi as all being amongst his sources of inspiration.
Martinelli is eligible to play for either the country of his birth, Brazil or that of his father, Italy. As of now he is yet to win a full cap for either country and would appear to be keeping his options open. He has, however, made several appearances for the Brazil U-23 team.
It will be fascinating to see just how far and in what direction Martinelli’s career progresses. As Arsenal continue to have a difficult season and yet still make progress in Europe, it seems certain that more opportunities will be afforded the young man and given his impressive form so far, the chances are he will take full advantage of them.