Soccer

Gabriel Martinelli problem with Kieran Tierney highlighted by Mikel Arteta

Gabriel Martinelli is certainly making it as difficult as possible for boss Mikel Arteta to continue to ignore him, or at the very least restrict him to bit-part cameo appearances from the bench.

While fellow, elder Brazilian Willian has struggled to adjust in making the switch from West to North London – yet to register a single goal so far this season, teenage Brazilian Martinelli continues to excite the Arsenal faithful with his high energy approach to every game.

The 19-year-old gave Newcastle full-back Jacob Murphy a torrid time on Sunday afternoon, playing the game at break-neck speed from the first whistle, Martinelli was seemingly getting the better of Murphy at will.

He was at the heart of almost all noteworthy action, notching an assist after his delightful weak-foot cross was met by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Arsenal's second, before Martinelli was the victim of a tackle that saw Toon defender Fabian Schar receieve a red card late on.

Despite his evident talent, Martinelli had started just two Premier League games this year prior to the trip to St James Park. His remaining eight appearances in 2021 have all come from the substitutes bench.

Manager Mikel Arteta heaped praise on his teen sensation after the game, claiming: “Gabi is improving every week, he’s taking his minutes in the right way and he is developing in the way we all believe he can.

“He had an assist and it was an important moment. He had some good moments off the left and also playing as the nine as well."

Surprisingly, it may have been the absence of Kieran Tierney that made Arteta's mind up about whether to deploy Martinelli.

Though the pair formed a nice partnership in the early stages of last season's Europa League, given the attacking nature of Tierney's playing style, it would appear Arteta isn't fond of overcrowding that left attacking channel with both Tierney and Martinelli.

Given Granit Xhaka is currently deputising in the left-back role, the Swiss international is far less likely to overlap and spend much time in the opposition half – handing more attacking responsibility to Martinelli.

"It is a connection there," Arteta said after the Newcastle game.

"I think having Granit behind him helps him in a way because he’s more in the line, in the last line, on the left when he is more comfortable.

"With Kieran it’s a little bit different. Those relationships we have to feel."

As one of the few ball carriers in Arteta's time, Martinelli is a prized asset, boasting the rare ability to turn a game on its head and unlock an entire system with his pace and precision. Therefore, the fact he has spent so much time watching from the side-lines has caused many to question the Arsenal boss.

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown took no prisoners when he claimed "The manager doesn’t like him. It’s as simple as that," after Martinelli was rested for the first leg of the Europa League semi-final at Villarreal.

However, Arteta was quick to quash that theory, explaining "Guys, I love Gabi so much, more than all of you together."

"Just look at how much he’s played in the last two years and how much he has played with me when he’s been available and then we can discuss that.

"This is just what happens. This debate is always happening when you don’t win. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. It would be [Alexandre] Lacazette, or Willian or Pepe."

After being handed the man of the match award following his performance at St James Park, all eyes will be on Arteta's team-sheet an hour before kick-off come Thursday evening, as Arsenal welcome a familiar face in Unai Emery's Villarreal for the second leg of the Europa League semi-final.

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