Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have always been referred to as a work-in-progress even when progress hasn’t been evident. This season, though, the strides being taken by the Gunners are clear to see in the Premier League table with Saturday’s 4-1 away win over Leeds United lifting them up into the top four.
While Arsenal still have an inferiority complex against their close rivals having already suffered defeats to Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United this season, they have brushed aside almost every other team they have faced. Arteta’s team might not be the best just yet, but they are better than the rest.
Yet the Gunners still have questions to answer over who will provide the firepower in years to come. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang recently stripped of the captaincy and banished from first-team training following a second disciplinary breach this year and Alexandre Lacazette out of contract at the end of the season, Arsenal could be left short of options in the attacking third.
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Gabriel Martinelli has, however, emerged as a key member of the team Arteta is building. Indeed, the Brazilian forward has scored three times in his last two Premier League appearances with Martinelli particularly eye-catching in the victory at Elland Road. He could be the frontman Arsenal need.
“He’s come a long, long way because his energy, his passion, his commitment, it doesn’t get much better than that ever, but there are other aspects in the game that he’s had to develop and maintain the ones that he’s exceptional at, like today, because when he has chances he puts them away,” Arteta said when asked to assess Martinelli’s display against Leeds. “He’s in the right direction.”
Against Leeds United, Martinelli was used on the left side of the Arsenal attack with Lacazette deployed through the middle. The Brazilian gave the Gunners balance in the final third with Leeds unable to handle the movement of Martinelli, Lacazette and co. Arsenal were irrepressible for much of the match.
It could be argued that even with Martinelli flourishing as a reliable goalscorer, Arsenal will need to enter the transfer market at the end of the season to find a new frontman. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Alexander Isak and Dusan Vlahovic have all been linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium as potential replacements for Aubameyang and Lacazette.
But Martinelli, still only 20 years old, could still be a defining talent for Arsenal in attack. Expectations of centre forwards have changed over the last decade or so with many wide forwards among the top-scoring players in the European game - see Mohamed Salah, who has scored 15 goals in 17 Premier League games this season, for one such example.
Some wide players prefer to stay wide, but Martinelli gives opposition defenders problems by driving into the box, on or off the ball, as often as possible. Arteta’s attacking approach is all about the exploitation of half-spaces and Martinelli does this arguably better than anyone else in the Arsenal squad right now.
In almost every other area of the pitch, Arsenal now have relationships to build on top of. Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White look to bring the best out of each other with Aaron Ramsdale a vocal presence behind them. Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe are now the Gunners’ creative core with Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka giving the North London side structure in the centre of the pitch.
Arsenal have good attackers in the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe and Martinelli, but there remains a sense that Arteta has still to find the right formula in the final third. This is where the Gunners can make further progress and Martinelli could be a difference-maker for a long time to come.
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