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What is going on with Gabriel Martinelli?

Right now, the Brazilian striker feels like an afterthought in North London.

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Arsenal Training Session Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

At the start of the international break, there were rumblings that Gabriel Martinelli wasn’t happy with his playing time at Arsenal and that the club were “anxious” he might try to force a move away from the Emirates. I mostly dismissed the reports as the usual agent / people close to a player using the media to angle for more minutes. I stand by that assessment. Given the youth movement at the club, I highly doubt a talented young player is going anywhere.

And Mikel Arteta has backed up that read. Asked about Martinelli in his press conference, Arteta unequivocally stated that the Brazilian would not be loaned out in January and that he needs “to find the right space for him to grow within the squad.” He also mentioned that Martinelli picked up a minor injury that may force him to miss the Crystal Palace match.

Martinelli started both the Brentford and Chelsea matches in the Premier League, started against Wimbledon, and came off the bench against West Bromwich Albion both in the Carabao Cup. But if he doesn’t feature against Crystal Palace, it will be at least a month between appearances for the Brazilian attacker.

Many Arsenal fans, myself included, would like Mikel Arteta to find more playing time for Gabriel Martinelli. His scoring, energy, and direct play feel like a natural boost for the Gunners’ floundering attack. He creates shots, chances, and general mayhem. So why doesn’t he play more?

One of the reasons may be fitness — as mentioned, he’s currently carrying a minor injury. I’m not sure what Arsenal’s comfort level with him is given that he missed preseason for the Olympics and had a major knee injury last season. To play devil’s advocate: that shouldn’t prevent him from at least being a regular substitute for 15-30 minute spells.

I’m also not sure that Mikel Arteta fully trusts Martinelli to play with the positional and tactical discipline he wants of his setup. There haven’t ever been more than whispers about it, but it would help explain things.

The players in front of him in the pecking order are probably the biggest thing keeping him from more playing time. Which of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang makes way for Martinelli? The Brazilian has struggled to get involved when leading the line in PEA’s spot. Emile Smith Rowe is probably Arsenal’s most in-form player at the moment. So is it Bukayo Saka who loses his place? Mikel Arteta also has Nicolas Pépé and Alexandre Lacazette as attacking options off the bench.

Could Gabriel Martinelli see more time as a rotational option? Probably, yes. But Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are between a rock and a hard place. The attack needs to establish some kind of chemistry and consistency, and the way to do that is to have guys play together. If you’re too quick to make changes, it’s really tough for the players to get into a rhythm.

Of course if you under-rotate, you increase fatigue and injury-risk. And when is the right time to say “okay, they’ve had their shot to establish something, now let’s change it up to see if something else works better” as a head coach? I guess that’s why Mikel Arteta makes the big bucks, and we’re stuck behind computer screens typing away.

Taking a step back, it’s possible that we’re all remembering Martinelli’s explosion onto the scene a bit too fondly. He was really impressive two years ago when he scored a bunch of goals, but his scoring (admittedly, a very important thing to do and something Arsenal lack at the moment) might be coloring our perception. There is probably also a bit of “different isn’t always better” at play here. Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff are operating with a lot more data than we are. They see Martinelli every day in training and have a much better idea of the player that he is right now than those of us on the outside looking in do.

I don’t know. I’m just trying to understand and explain why Gabriel Martinelli isn’t playing more. Maybe it’s just because Mikel Arteta is getting this one wrong.