The great Arsenal ex-manager Arsène Wenger once said that South America is the best part of the world in producing elite forwards. In his reign, the Gunners had a deadly attacker who came from that region; the man being Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean produced 80 goals and 45 assists in just 166 games for the London club before joining Manchester United in 2018.
After 18 months without a South American forward, Arsenal landed another one last summer. He goes by the name of Gabriel Martinelli. At that time, he just turned 18 years old, making him almost unknown for the fans. Today, Martinelli is successfully catching the world’s attention with his brilliant performances. Without further ado, this tactical analysis will inform you about the promising youngster.
Martinelli is originally a centre-forward. A versatile forward himself, Martinelli can also play in both flanks, mainly as a left-winger. In fact, from all 26 games he has played this season until March 4, Martinelli started as the main striker in only five matches. However, the positional shift according to Mikel Arteta’s tactics didn’t reduce his impact. So far, he has made ten goals and four assists in all competitions. That’s more than one goal contribution every two matches on average.
As an attacker, Martinelli is very active inside the box. His smart positioning and off-the-ball movements are almost second to none at his age. Those traits mean Martinelli only needs a few touches to make a shot, and further, to score. Per the statistics, the Brazilian scored seven out of his ten goals so far with one-touch finishes.
Superb spatial awareness
Despite being only a teenager, Martinelli is already blessed with good spatial awareness as well as trailblazing speed. Either playing as a centre-forward or a left-winger, Martinelli can both attack the space and make a room for himself.
Mainly, Martinelli likes to attack the gap between the opponents’ centre-backs. His main tool is the diagonal run. Sometimes he will drift slightly to pull a defender to his side before attacking the gap with his lightning speed. By making a diagonal run, Martinelli could confuse the defenders on who needs to close him down. Not only to attack space in between defenders, but the Brazilian’s pace is also useful to make runs in behind.
A smart attacker himself, Martinelli can also make space for his sake. To do that, he would let the opponents’ backline make a retreating run deep inside their box. Then, the youngster would do the opposite in the last second. Martinelli would decelerate — even stops his run if needed — to create the room. Such a trait would allow him enough time to make a goal-scoring attempt.
His good spatial awareness doesn’t stop there. Martinelli also knows how to open space for his teammates. Usually, he would drift away from his area to allow his teammate behind him to attack the vacated space. By drifting away, most likely the Brazilian would also pull his marker with him. As a result, a fellow Gunner could fill the gap and continue the attack.
Martinelli also has a good vision in his armoury. He could locate his teammates in behind with an incisive pass in behind, or a smart cross into the box. The statistics show that Martinelli has averaged 1.8 key passes per 90 minutes in the Europa League. Furthermore, such number helps him to create three assists in the competition so far.
Great nose for goals
As mentioned previously, Martinelli is very active inside the box. He constantly makes sharp movements off the ball to free himself from his marker. To do that, Martinelli tends to make curved runs to get away from the defender’s eyesight. Furthermore, the Brazilian would often make a last-second sharp turn to attack the ball. Such rapid change usually confuses his marker and allow Martinelli to be free in space.
On top of that, the Brazilian is also very good at reading the situation around him. This allows Martinelli to position himself in the best goal-scoring spot possible. No wonder the teenager has made seven one-touch-finish goals until this very moment.
Such a great nose for goals can also be seen when he’s playing as a winger. When deployed on the flank, Martinelli likes to make a diagonal run into the box. The objective is to offer himself at the far post as Arsenal’s additional crossing target. Not only that, his penalty-box activeness would ensure his team to always have one player in the goalmouth area. This is important because Lacazette — Arsenal’s first-choice striker — tends to drop a bit to combine with his attacking comrades.
Being a happy-scoring forward doesn’t mean Martinelli is a lazy player. The youngster is very keen to help the defence. Mainly, he likes to press the opponents up to their penalty box; even closing down the goalkeeper. Such aggression is useful to force the on-ball opponent to make an error; thus giving away the ball for Arsenal.
Martinelli also likes to get involved in backwards pressing. This means he would step down from his forward position to press the on-ball opponent from their rear side. By doing so, Martinelli could further surprise the opponent and help his midfield line to win the ball back. The stats show that Martinelli averages 2.7 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League. The number is even higher in the Europa League. By the stats, he makes 2.9 tackles per 90 minutes in the competition.
Not only in the more aggressive high pressing system, but Martinelli is also sound when defending deeply. As a left-winger, Martinelli can often be found tracking the opponents’ full-back or wing-back run. To do that, he could even drop next to Arsenal’s backline. Such defensive diligence is almost second to none compared to his forward teammates.
In this part of the analysis, we are going to take a look at Martinelli’s potential problems. Physically, Martinelli stands at 175 centimetres; regular size for a footballer. Despite his not-so-special size, Martinelli is not shy to make aerial duels. The young forward has been able to compensate that with his high offensive IQ. For a fact, he has scored three goals with his head. However, he needs to build more muscle in the upcoming years; especially if he wants to excel as an all-around centre-forward.
Martinelli’s biggest issue is not his size. It’s his on-ball ability. Quite often the 18-year-old got nullified in one-versus-one duels due to his lack of creativity. Martinelli tends to be very one-footed when dribbles the ball; which makes him rather predictable for the defender. Despite being a Brazilian, Martinelli doesn’t have many tricks yet under his sleeve. At best, he would use his pace as well as utilising the space to beat his opponent.
The youngster is also not very good in tight spaces. Due to his one-footed tendency and minimum maneuvres, Martinelli tends to play safely in such a situation. In today’s football, press-resistance is a highly valuable asset, especially for an attacker. If he wants to be a world-class versatile forward, Martinelli needs to improve on his on-ball ability. Failing to do so could hurt his career in the future.
18-year-old Martinelli has been a revelation for the Premier League side so far. His great spatial awareness and positional versatility make him an important part for Arteta and his tactics. Not only that, but the Brazilian also possesses a solid defensive work rate which helps Arsenal heavily.
However, as this scout report suggests, Martinelli is still a bit one-dimensional as an attacker. He relies a lot on his movements and positioning but lacking quality with the ball. To be a much better forward, Martinelli needs to add that particular trait to his bag. Fortunately, Martinelli has big names like Özil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Lacazette to help him grow. It will be very interesting to see what he can offer in the upcoming years.