The gloves are off, after a dreadful performance against Villarreal in the semi-final first leg of the Europa League. The tie was rescued late on by a Pepe penalty, which at least gave the Gunners a glimmer of hope, but there were several things to concern the Arsenal faithful. However, Mikel Arteta engaged Villarreal without a recognised striker and more bizarrely, overlooked the available talent of young Brazilian prospect Gabriel Martinelli.
The performance against Villarreal was extremely poor, to say the least, and when Arsenal did threaten the opposition, the movement tended to break down without an instinctive striker which raises the question, is there a problem with Martinelli? Former Gunner Martin Keown was quick to suggest there is. Keown said on BT Sport (via Goal):
“I’ve been concerned as to why that player is not playing.”
He was pressed for a reason and added:
“Because the manager doesn’t like him. It’s as simple as that.”
That may or may not be true, but what was abundantly clear was that Arsenal needed a positive threat at the top end of their team and many felt the inclusion of Martinelli would have asked some questions of the Villarreal defence.
Martinelli seems to be a last resort at the moment, rarely featuring beyond his cameo role for a team that are at times bereft of ingenuity and creativity. Fans are baffled by Martinelli’s non-inclusion after seeing such purpose and promise from the youngster and there’s a growing belief that there is an issue other than fitness or application.
Lee Judges (AFTV) seems baffled by the manager’s reluctance to unleash the Brazilian when he said:
“Martinelli ticks all the boxes Arteta wants, he works hard, offers a quick press, and trains hard but he still doesn’t get a look in”
Football writer, columnist, commentator, and podcast panelist Malina Birch said:
“I’m mad at Arteta for not playing him, I have said it multiple times on my page, it’s simply stupid to have a proven goalscorer and omit him because of … and that is the question, why???”
“I find it really frustrating and I’m sure Gabi feels the same. Especially after showing what he’s capable of and making the difference every time he comes on. He deserves more chances and better treatment for sure”
If you go onto social media, you’ll see thousands of similar comments regarding the player but Martinelli isn’t the only problem. Another concern was the formation and the use of players that were in unfamiliar roles when there were decent alternatives available.
The Xhaka experiment has failed due to no fault of his own, the Swiss player is not a left-back in any universe, and being dependable doesn’t make up for lack of speed or defensive awareness. Cedric would have provided the better option on the left, with Bellerin on the right and perhaps, Ceballos could have been sacrificed for Martinelli.
In my opinion, the best way to counter a threat is to offer a far more superior one. Taking the game to Emery’s men with purpose and energy was the only way to approach this semi-final, instead, it was a very lacklustre affair devoid of any cutting edge.
Nevertheless, it seems like Arteta might have realised his mistake and tried to rectify it by starting Martinelli against Newcastle United on Sunday. As expected from the youngster, he put up a dazzling performance at St James’ Park and also assisted Aubameyang in ending his goal drought. This again begs the question, why is the Brazilian not a permanent member of Arsenal’s starting XI?
Come this Thursday, Arsenal host the Europa League semi-final second leg and they are trailing 2-1 on aggregate. The Gunners managed to get a vital away goal and the tie is far from over, but it’s not going to be easy, with the visitors being in the driving seat.
We have to hope that Mikel Arteta will use the first leg experience and Gabriel’s marvelous performance against the Magpies to alter his approach to the second leg against Villarreal. He needs to include strikers that can turn this tie around, but for some reason, I suspect, it won’t be Martinelli.