Mikel Arteta has defended his use of Gabriel Martinelli this season and insists he’s the Brazilian striker’s biggest fan.
The 19-year-old was handed his sixth Premier League start of the season at St James’ Park and enjoyed a fruitful afternoon laying on a goal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the Gunners ran out 2-0 winners against Newcastle.
Martinelli began the game playing off the left flank and later moved into a central role when Aubameyang was substituted with 15 minutes remaining. The boss thinks he’s showing promise in both positions.
“Gabi is improving every week,” he told his post-game press conference.
“He’s taking his minutes in the right way and he’s developing the way we all believe he can.
“Today he had an assist, which was an important moment, and he had some good moments off the left – and also trying to play as a No 9 as well.”
He added: “Time will tell [if he’s a number 9] but I would like to develop him in both positions because I think he’s got the potential to do both.”
Arteta has been criticised this season for not using Martinelli enough since he returned from his serious knee problem.
After returning to action in December, he played just 53 minutes in the league between January and the middle of March. More regular game time has been forthcoming in recent weeks leading Arteta to bullishly defend his decision.
“Just look at how much he’s played in the last few years,” said Arteta.
“Then how much he’s played with me when he’s available. Then we can discuss that. It’s what happens. This debate is always happening when you don’t win.
“If it’s not him, it will be someone else. If it’s not Gabi, it will be Lacazette, Willian or Pepe. It’s part of it.”
The boss also touched on the connections Martinelli is making with his teammates. His assist for Aubameyang speaks to a growing understanding between the pair and the Brazilian has also done well adapting to whoever is playing behind him at left-back.
“Yeah it is a connection [with Aubameyang],” said Arteta.
“Having Granit behind him helps him in a way because he’s more in the line, in the last line on the left where he is more comfortable. With Kieran it’s a little bit different.
“Those relationships are ones we have to built. If there are any doubts, I love Gabi so much. More than all of you together!”