Mikel Arteta has explained why Gabriel Martinelli hasn’t seen more action in recent weeks having played up the teenager’s potential when he returned from injury in December.
The Brazilian striker made his comeback from a long-term knee injury just before Christmas and was quick to remind Arsenal fans what they’d been missing when he produced a scintillating performance in the Gunners much-needed win against Chelsea on Boxing Day.
Hopes were high that the teenager would build on that energetic performance but a twisted ankle – sustained in the warm-up ahead of the FA Cup clash with Newcastle in early January – appears to have taken the wind from his sails.
While the boss trusted Martinelli to start against title-challenging Manchester United 12 days ago, he was hauled off at the break for tactical reasons. He’s since been an unused substitute against Wolves and Aston Villa.
Asked why the youngster isn’t starting more games, Arteta explained, “Well, he came back and did really well, but then he picked up another injury.
“It took him a while to come and now it’s about getting in his rhythm and getting his place in the team like anybody else. Don’t forget that we played him last time against Manchester United and he started ahead of other players, so it’s not like he’s not having the opportunities.
“We know that he’s got a huge potential and he’s done some really good things since he’s come back. He has a lot of things to develop in his game because of course at his age it’s normal.”
To be fair to Arteta, who has bemoaned the fixture pile-up causing injury problems to his players, there are going to be plenty of opportunities to give Martinelli minutes. Here’s hoping he can get into the groove quickly. You sense if he can get a goal, his confidence will soar.
The boss also touched on another young striker, Folarin Balogun, and rebuffed a suggestion that he must be resigned to his departure when his contract runs out at the end of the season.
“No, I’m still very positive that Flo is going to stay with us,” he said.
“It’s what we’re trying to do as a club, and it’s what I’m trying to do as a manager. As far as I know from last week, the player wants to be here, so I’m positive.
“I think he’s made some big progress in a few months.”