Arsenal’s summer arrivals included a club-record signing, two Champions League winners, a left-back with four consecutive league titles to his name and a teenager already deemed to be worth £27million.
Yet, with more than half of the season played and two managers already discarded, it’s an 18-year-old signed from the fourth-tier of Brazilian football who’s grabbing the headlines at the Emirates. Sound familiar?
As Mikel Arteta seeks to rebrand Arsenal and build a more sustainable future, it’s a Wengeresque blast from the past who’s leading the way. Arsenal fans don’t have a lot to be proud about, given their sudden allegiance to a mid-table club, but in Gabriel Martinelli there is hope.
Martinelli didn’t arrive in north London bearing the hallmarks of a typical Brazilian wünderkid.
He hadn’t pulled on a Brazil shirt at any level prior to joining Arsenal, while his journey to Europe was via unfashionable Ituano.
Traditionally, Arsenal have tended to deal with Brazil’s domestic giants when signing directly from that market. Gilberto Silva was signed from Atletico Mineiro, Sylvinho and Edu from Corinthians, Juan and Denilson from Sao Paulo and Wellington Silva from Fluminense.
Only Pedro Botelho, who failed to make a first-team appearance at Arsenal after arriving from Florianopolis-based Figueirense in 2007, took a similar route to Martinelli.
Such was Martinelli’s lack of profile outside of Brazil that even the most natural-light deprived of Football Manager fans would have struggled to reel off the teenager’s key attributes when Arsenal announced the deal.
Half a year later Martinelli is no longer an unknown quantity. The 18-year-old’s strike against Chelsea took him to ten goals for the season, greedily racked up in just 11 starts.
Not since a 19-year-old Nicolas Anelka scored 19 goals during the 1998/99 season has a teenager managed double figures in an Arsenal shirt, and for context that was the Frenchman’s third year at the club.
Where Anelka had a supply line of Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp and Freddie Ljunberg to rely on, Martinelli has an off colour Mesut Ozil and misfiring Nicolas Pepe. It’s little wonder the teenager who goes by ‘Gabi Goal’ is already a north London cult hero.
Not only is Martinelli’s emergence at Arsenal timely, given the repeated, and at times comedic, failings of his team-mates this season, it’s also warmly nostalgic.
Arsenal’s glory years were marked by Wenger’s ability to pluck rough diamonds out of every corner of world football, often on the cheap.
Arguably the best find was Kolo Toure, who arrived as an uncapped Ivorian from ASEC Mimosas at a cost of £150,000 and left an Invincible, but none of Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Petit, Overmars or Ljungberg cost the club more than £7million.
In Martinelli, Arsenal appear to have unearthed another gem but, far from being one for the future, the Brazilian is already leading the way. Arteta’s job will be to do what Wenger was so masterful at in providing the perfect environment for potential to flourish.
This isn’t Wenger’s Arsenal any more. There’s a new no.1, a new centre-back partnership, Lucas Torreira is finally providing bite in midfield and Arteta is trying to work out how to get the best from of a potentially devastating new attack.
But Wenger must crack a wry smiling every time he sees Martinelli take to the pitch in an Arsenal shirt.
Nostalgia is often an unnecessary distraction at football clubs, as Man United are so perfectly illustrating this season, but for an Arsenal side desperate to taste some of yesteryear’s success, it might just be the key to better days.
Fire up the VHS, slap some vapour rub on an O2-sponsored shirt and watch Martinelli work his magic.
No pressure, Gabi Goal.
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