Arsenal: Gabriel Martinelli walking in the footsteps of the modern Number 9

Arsenal, Gabriel Martinelli (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Gabriel Martinelli (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli is currently touted as a winger, but his best eventual position is as a number 9. The Brazilian is walking the footsteps of the modern striker.

One of the hallmarks of a truly great striker is versatility. The ability to finish chances is paramount, but skill on the ball, creative ability, and physical dominance—speed and strength—are just as important, especially in the modern game. That’s why so many number 9’s start as wingers.

The ability to do more than just score goals is arguably the most important trait of the modern number 9. The two greatest managers in the world, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, prioritize a striker who spearheads attacking play, creating goals and cycling possession, not just making the net ripple.

That’s why so many number 9’s start out wide. Young starlets like Mason Greenwood and Kylian Mbappe, established predators like Timo Werner and Anthony Martial, experienced veterans like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, even legends of the game like David Villa and our own Thierry Henry. They all started their careers as wingers, before becoming the figurehead of the attack.

Martinelli is cut from that mold.

The 19-year-old joined Arsenal over a year ago, and recently penned a new long-term deal, but while he was scouted for his eye for goal, we’ve seen so much more since then. His instinct for positioning, his hunger in the press, his dazzling dribbles and calm demeanor in possession. He’s the complete package.

But it’s his ability to create something out of nothing that truly sets him apart. He’s unpredictable on the ball, and fierce as a lion off it, and that combination is truly fearful.

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The young Brazilian has played 1081 minutes this season over 21 appearances. Of his 11 starts, 7 have come off the left wing, in contrast with a mere 2 at striker. Despite that, he’s managed an astronomical 10 goals this season, with only Auba and (finally) Alexandre Lacazette ahead of him.

For context, Lacazette has played almost double his minutes, and Aubameyang almost triple, but Martinelli refuses to be left out of the conversation. And that same tenacity, instinct, and grit is what catches the eye when he steps on the pitch. It’s the reason he’s a superstar incumbent. But don’t just take my word for it.

It takes a lot to get Jurgen Klopp’s attention, but in a gut-wrenching 5-5 draw in the League Cup, won 5-4 by Liverpool on penalties, Martinelli set the world alight for the first time. “Martinelli’s pretty much the same age but he’s a talent of the century, he’s an incredible striker,” were the German’s words, as the Brazilian led a merry dance at Anfield, bamboozling the Liverpool backline. It was the first time we saw what he was capable of, and it’s the first game he convinced me that the number 9 role was his home.

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Once he recovers from the lesion in his left knee, expect him to pick up where he left off. This summer will likely have some turnover up front, and that will allow Gabriel Martinelli to begin to stake his claim as a Gunner. Because he’s going to be a star, and his star will rise with the number 9 on his back.