Chelsea had Arsenal exactly where they wanted them – on the ropes. The Blues were 1-0 up. Their opponents had been reduced to 10 men. They knew that Arsenal had won only two of their last 15 Premier League encounters. A victory seemed certain. Gabriel Martinelli had other ideas.
Chelsea were on the attack, in search of a second goal. Shkodran Mustafi headed the ball clear from a corner. Martinelli seized upon it just outside his own penalty area. Within seconds the ball was in the back of the net at the other end.
Martinelli outpaced Emerson. He breezed past N’Golo Kante after the Chelsea man had slipped. Most impressively of all, he showed tremendous composure to calmly slide the ball past Kepa Arrizabalaga. Arsenal were level thanks to a brilliant goal from one of the Premier League’s most exciting prospects.
Arsenal had a busy transfer window last summer. They paid a club-record fee to acquire Nicolas Pepe from Lille. They captured the highly-rated Kieran Tierney from Celtic. The Gunners bolstered the heart of their backline with David Luiz. And they also landed Dani Ceballos on a season-long loan from Real Madrid.
By comparison, the addition of Martinelli went under the radar. That was understandable. The 18-year-old had never even played in Brazil’s top division. He had not represented his country at any level. Arsenal fans would not have expected to see him in action very often this season.
Martinelli first excited Arsenal fans with a brace against Nottingham Forest in September. The following week he also scored twice against Standard Liege. He then did the same against Liverpool in the last 16 of the League Cup.
Despite his exploits in other competitions, Martinelli found game time hard to come by in the Premier League. He only made his first top-flight start in December. But since then he has emphatically shown that he belongs at the highest level.
Martinelli has now scored 10 goals in all competitions this term. He is the first teenager to do so for Arsenal since Nicolas Anelka more than two decades ago. The forward provides speed, directness and trickery on the flanks.
When Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent off against Crystal Palace, Arsenal knew they would have to cope without their top scorer for three games. Supporters expected Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe to fill the void. Instead, it is Martinelli who has taken center stage.
Mikel Arteta now has a welcome dilemma on his hands. When Arsenal return to Premier League action against Burnley in early February, Aubameyang will be available once again. The Gabon international often plays on the left. That is where Arteta has deployed Martinelli in his captain’s absence.
Aubameyang is too good to leave out. Arteta will find a place for him in the team. But it will be impossible to field Aubemeyang, Lacazette, Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Martinelli in the same XI. Arteta has some thinking to do, but on current form Martinelli has nothing to worry about. He is already one of Arsenal’s most dangerous weapons.