After ages and ages without a win, Arsenal finally got back to winning ways against West Ham and it meant a huge sigh of relief for Ljungberg and fans of the club alike. How convenient was it that a certain inclusion in the starting lineup proved to the difference – Gabriel Martinelli.
Firstly the presence of elite centre forwards in Aubameyang and Lacazette means one of the pair usually has to play out wide for the other to be accommodated. It has been common stream to see Lacazette take the centre role thus making Aubameyang drift out to the left flank.
With Arsenal searching for their first Premier League win since October, Ljungberg made a number of changes from Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton, the biggest of which was dropping Lacazette to the bench to give Martinelli his first start in the Premier League in a move that pushed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into his favoured central position up top.
Prior to the West Ham game, Martinelli had already scored six goals in all competitions (Transfermarkt) but it’s not out of place to say his first Premier League goal could surely be one of Arsenal’s most important goals this season. A goal down and lacking inspiration, Martinelli made a darting run, connected to Kolasinac’s brilliant pass and slotted home with a collective finish that gave Arsenal a much-needed equalizer.
That goal opened the floodgates for more as the Gunners emerged as 3-1 winners at the full-time whistle. While the 18-year-old remained a bright spot throughout the game, it brought the further thought that there is indeed life after Aubameyang and Lacazette.
The pair have been subject of contract extension talks with Arsenal recently, with initial reports saying both strikers weren’t willing to sign new contracts with former boss Unai Emery still at the helm of affairs. However, even with Unai Emery out of the club, a much more recent report by the Mirror suggested Aubameyang has pulled out of contract extension talks with Arsenal due to the “current state of the club”.
Developments like these make it inevitable that Arsenal would lose one of Aubameyang or Lacazette in the summer – If not both of them. However, Martinelli’s rise shows there is an available replacement already with potential to be world-class in only a short time.
He isn’t the finished article yet but his technique, movement on and off the ball and elite finishing would help Arsenal heal much faster from the wounds of potentially losing one of Aubameyang or Lacazette.
One thing that makes Martinelli stand out as well is his work-rate and intensity levels. In fact, his energy level was the major reason he was handed a first Premier League start ahead of Lacazette – according to interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.
‘Martinelli did amazingly,’ Ljungberg told the BBC h/t by Goal. ‘He is like a Duracell battery, he keeps going. Laca (Alexandre Lacazette) is a tremendous player but I had to make a tough decision.’
In Ljungberg’s press conference, the Swede expanded on his decision and says the Brazilian’s ‘lack of fear’ was also a factor. ‘Gabby is a fantastic player.
He’s very, very young but he has that energy about him so he goes and goes,’ said Ljungberg. ‘He has no fear, he just keeps going. It’s a pleasure to see him on the pitch and for him to have success today brings a smile to your face.
Against West Ham, Martinelli made 20 high-intensity sprints in the game. That was far more than anyone else. Twice as many as any other Arsenal player. He was still making them in the seventh minute of stoppage time, darting in behind the back line to latch onto Ozil’s probing pass.
The Brazilian youngster was brought in from Ituano in a £6m deal during the summer transfer window, and the club’s initial plan was to give him time to find his feet in England. With more and more impressive performances, Martinelli could see his development fast-track at the club and might see him evolve into something more than just a squad member.
It would be unwise to get carried away after his first Premier League debut but his performances have indeed shown that Arsenal already have a replacement sorted for Aubameyang and/or Lacazette whatever happens with their futures this summer.