Going into Sunday’s clash at Anfield, much of the conversation centred around Gabriel Martinelli’s battle with Trent Alexander-Arnold following their meeting at the Emirates in October.
That day, Martinelli caused Alexander-Arnold problems all afternoon and came away with a goal and an assist, with the Liverpool full-back arguably at fault on both occasions.
Analysing Gabriel Martinelli’s battle with Trent Alexander-Arnold at Anfield
That battle was quickly replicated as it took less than a minute on Sunday for Martinelli to bulldoze his way past Alexander-Arnold and wreak a bit of havoc in the hosts’ box. The opening minute showed Arsenal and Martinelli’s intent. They had come to win the game and attack the weaknesses in Liverpool’s game.
Despite Liverpool coming into the game a little, it was Arsenal who dominated the early exchanges, and after eight minutes, Martinelli opened the scoring after slotting home a superbly taken goal after a loose ball broke from Virgil van Dijk.
While Arsenal had a slice of fortune in the way the ball broke, a lot was asked of Martinelli. He had to completely readjust his feet and had Van Dijk, Ibrahim Konate and Alexander Arnold surrounding him, along with an onrushing Alisson Becker, but he still managed to roll the ball past the Brazilian shot-stopper with a deft finish.
His threat continued throughout, and just like earlier in the season, Alexander-Arnold’s decision-making cost Liverpool, as he stepped forward for Granit Xhaka’s pass to Martinelli, giving the in-form Arsenal man space to run into.
Once in possession of the ball, Martinelli was ice cool, pulling it back onto his right foot and launching an inch-perfect cross, full of venom, onto the head of Gabriel Jesus who just had to guide the ball past a hapless Alisson.
However, after 40 minutes onward, Alexander-Arnold’s afternoon changed for the better, with Liverpool gaining more control. His scuffle with Xhaka has caused huge media debate about whether it awoke a sleeping Anfield crowd, but either way, the free-kick he won led directly to Liverpool’s first goal.
As the game entered the second half, Alexander-Arnold was playing a much more inverted role and was seeing a lot of the ball; exactly what you don’t want. Despite his defensive frailties, he is one of the best creators in the game, and he can really punish teams.
Throughout the game, he had 76 touches, completed 80% of his passes, completed six of eight attempted crosses, and was ultimately responsible for the biggest moment of the contest when he nutmegged Oleksandr Zinchenko before teeing up Roberto Firmino for Liverpool’s equaliser.
However, despite his strong second-half showing, he was dribbled past four times in the 90, with Martinelli completing three dribble attempts, and there were chances late on for Arsenal to punish Liverpool down that side.
As Liverpool were chasing the game, Martin Ødegaard curled a delicious ball down the line to set Martinelli free, but his cross, which was heading to Saka’s feet, was cut out by Andy Robertson.
And, late in the game, with Liverpool playing high up the park, Martinelli had the ball at his feet with Saka ahead of him in space, only to overhit his pass at the crucial minute.
Both of these breaks happened in the space vacated by Alexander-Arnold, and on another day, Arsenal would have punished them and we would have been talking about the England defender’s inability to defend, rather than his incredible assist.
But overall, this was a showing of how much Martinelli has developed. He was fully committed in everything he did defensively, winning 7/15 ground duels, and was fearless in attack. Not many 21-year-olds can go to Anfield and do that.
He should take huge confidence from the performance and will be itching to get back on the grass for West Ham on Sunday.