Arsenal saw what Man Utd and Barcelona did not in Klopp’s ‘talent of the century’

John Nicholson
Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli

Gabriel Martinelli could not impress Man Utd or Barcelona on trial but Arsenal liked what they saw and Mikel Arteta has moulded the forward into a star.


Who’s this then?
Gabriel Teodoro Martinelli Silva is a 21-year-old 5ft 10ins Brazilian forward currently playing for Arsenal. Born to a Brazilian mother and Italian father, he has dual Brazilian-Italian citizenship.

Born in Guarulhos, São Paulo, his dad took him for a trial at Corinthians aged just six and he got his youth career started in 2010, playing for Corinthians’ futsal team. In 2015, aged just 14 he moved to Ituano – which is where Boro’s Juninho began his career – and in subsequent years he had trials at Manchester United, going several times to Old Trafford, even meeting the senior players. But United said they didn’t want him. He later said this was devastating as he was sure he was going to go to Manchester. Then he spent 15 days at Barcelona for a trial but they shook their heads and declined to get onboard the Martinelli train.

In 2018 and 2019 he made 34 appearances and scored 10 times for Ituano and he did well in the Copinha, the São Paulo Youth Cup.

Arsenal’s Brazilian scout spotted his talent and because the lad had an Italian passport, it was easier to bring him to England. In those hazy, lazy, distant days before the UK had been dragged out of the EU, people with a European passport had freedom of movement and could work anywhere within the EU.

Klopp picks out ‘talent of century’ in Liverpool v Arsenal

He cost just £6million quid and is now worth north of £60m, so that was a very good purchase indeed by Unai Emery. Making his debut in the 2019-20 season, he has so far made 117 appearances, scored 29 goals and made 16 assists. He helped Arsenal win the 2020 FA Cup. In the same year he got severe knee knack and was out for five months. That put a cramp in his development but he took the time out to really improve his English and become more integrated into London life.

This season has seen him hitting some peak form, scoring 11 goals in 25 league appearances and making three assists.

He also started his international career for Brazil, winning the Olympics in 2020 with the U23s and subsequently getting eight caps. Still not 22 until June, he is a key player in Mikel Arteta’s push for the title and scored two against Everton this week to leave the Gunners five points clear at the top of the league.


Why the love?
He was a rising star for a couple of years, but now he’s an actual star. That said, under Arteta, you only get to be a star by being a crucial piece in the jigsaw of the team. Playing on the left or through the middle or even as a false nine – possibly all three during a game – he is so versatile and flexible, as all the best forwards tend to be.

It’s also noticeable how good his off-the-ball running is. This is one of those undervalued talents because the player isn’t doing anything with the actual ball. However, knowing when and where to run and into which space is a real art. It is what powers many of the goals he scores, sometimes running unmarked into space on the left.

While he’s not a scorching roadrunner in terms of pace, he’s got a quick brain and, as we always used to be told, though less so these days, the first yard is in your head. His play has a light touch, by which I mean there’s no sense of him thundering around the pitch, no just booting it. His game is one of opportunity and delicacy of touch.

He’s not one of the biggest boys in class, and you’d be pushed to call him a massive physical presence, though clearly he can hold his own. But all his value is in his brain and in his feet and that’s exactly what his manager needs for this fluid and dynamic and flexible team.

Clearly an intelligent footballer, which you absolutely need to be in Arteta’s team, if you watch all the goals he’s scored, they are all different types. Although predominantly right footed, he’s scored three out of 11 this season with his left as well as two headers. This week’s brace against Everton was typical: one playing on the shoulder of the defender and getting ahead of him to bury it, the other a tap-in to finish a delicious move.

As he matures he is increasingly one of the keys the manager has to unlock the opposition defence and he’s only going to get better.


Three great moments
Running the length of the pitch to score? No problem.

His performance against Leicester really shows how good he is at both finding space to score and also to assist others:

Superb breakaway goal. He really couldn’t miss:


Future days?
He seems to be loving life in London and last month he signed a new contract at Arsenal; the new deal will run until 2027 with the club holding an option to extend the agreement by an additional 12 months. There is absolutely no doubt he is getting better and better. And this season he has been more consistent, something that often comes with maturity. Until this season Arteta was obviously being canny with him and keeping him on a short leash as he matured, but he’s appeared in every Premier League game this season and is an important cog in the new Arsenal machine. And with four goals in his last three Premier League games from an xG of just 2, he is outperforming expectations.

With the finishing straight coming into sight as Arsenal close in on a historic title win, his performance will be a crucial part of their push. Along with Bukayo Saka, he is part of one of the youngest, most dynamic strike forces in football right now. So much so that they look almost unstoppable.