The rewarding of the #11 shirt depicted the faith Mikel Arteta had in his spritely Brazilian winger. From Charlie George to Ian Wright, the number has been donned by some Arsenal greats. Gabriel Martinelli was asked to continue a fated legacy.
The shirt number switch meant it was time for Martinelli, once touted by Jurgen Klopp as the "talent of the century", to come of age. His Gunners career up until that point had been laden with promise but defined with purple patches as opposed to sustained runs. Injuries had also taken their toll.
In 2022/23, Martinelli thrived with the newfound responsibility as Arteta's project propelled into a new realm. While the former Ituano starlet was signed by Unai Emery, he's certainly been made by the Spaniard in north London. Arteta's penchant for aiding the development of wide players manifested time and time again at Manchester City, and his magic touch seemingly worked wonders again with Martinelli.
The Brazilian would enjoy a mightily productive 2022/23 season, recording 20 goal contributions (15G, 5A) in 36 Premier League games as Arsenal went toe-to-toe with Manchester City for the title.
2022/23 was a coming-of-age season for Gabriel Martinelli
Unlike Bukayo Saka, who's long been tasked with a fairly isolated role down the right flank, Martinelli functioned as part of a majestic triumvirate that made up Arteta's left-hand side dynamic. Granit Xhaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko operated in perfect harmony with the relentless Brazilian, with their brilliance exemplified at the very start of the season away at Crystal Palace. The slickness of Arsenal's combinations and rotations completely overwhelmed the Eagles, and it was Martinelli who grabbed the Gunners' first goal of the campaign from a set piece.
While Saka was so often able to dominate his duel on the opposite flank, Martinelli's ability to combine and rotate with Xhaka, in particular, proved to be another staple of their attack. The Swiss international was comfortable drifting wide left so Martinelli could operate inside, and Zinchenko's technical proficiency meant both were often the beneficiaries of the killer pass.
Xhaka's role ensured Martinelli was often thrust into an inside forward role which maximised the winger's scoring chances. The Brazilian's devastating ability to attack space in behind combined with his maturing ability to accurately finish off both feet meant he was a regular featurer on the scoresheet. Martinelli's form catapulted him into Brazil's World Cup squad midway through the season.
While the young winger remained rough around the edges and far from perfect technically, 2022/23 seemed to be the season when Martinelli placed himself into the realm of stardom.
Gabriel Martinelli must build an on-pitch relationship with Kai Havertz
Despite the stylistic alteration, 2023/24 hadn't been a campaign of disappointment up until the festive period. Going into the first-ever Premier League winter break, Arsenal have won one of their last seven in all competitions. However, the season has been so far been an underwhelming one for Martinelli.
Some might point to the six games he missed as a result of a hamstring injury when explaining his decreased output this term, but Martinelli's woes far transcend his availability.
The winger is currently averaging his lowest xG per 90 minutes and lowest xG per shot of his career this season. He's also scored just two Premier League goals - a deflected effort from distance against Manchester City and a smart finish in the box at Luton Town. Such issues don't merely point to a drop in form, there are tactical factors at play here, too.
Remember that Xhaka bloke I described as being crucial to his success last season? Well, he's not here anymore. The once imperious triangle has lost an edge, while the novelty of Zinchenko's role is wearing off. As a result, Martinelli has become more isolated down the left, forced to receive deeper, and is less frequently finding himself in the scoring positions that aided his surge last season. He's no longer an inside forward, but a touchline winger and he doesn't boast the requisite ability in one-v-one situations, like Saka does, to manufacture chances for himself.
Summer arrival Kai Havertz has been tasked with mitigating Xhaka's departure, albeit in a different role, and the German's inclusion has undoubtedly hindered Martinelli. At the time of writing, Havertz is currently averaging fewer (all per 90 minutes) completed passes, assists, key passes, passes into the final third, passes into the penalty area, and progressive passes comparted to Xhaka last season.
While Havertz has worked effectively in tandem with Gabriel Jesus, there's no notable on-field relationship to speak of with Martinelli. Any combinations so far have been more indirect and symbolic of the direction Arteta is taking his team - for example, Havertz's duel-winning abilities teed up Martinelli's lovely goal against RC Lens in the Champions League.
Given that Arteta is seemingly intent on Havertz working in north London, this has got to change if the Brazilian is to eventually build on his scintillating 2022/23 season.