Given Arsenal’s paucity of options in attack, it wasn’t hugely surprising to hear reports last week that Gabriel Martinelli is being tested out as a number 9 in training.
Now that the Brazilian is free from suspension, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s handed a chance to shine in a central role against Wolves on Thursday.
Intriguingly, Mikel Arteta has hinted that Emile Smith Rowe is another option in attack.
After watching the England international score his tenth goal of the season at the weekend, the boss said: “I think he can play in four positions.
“As a left winger, a left attacking midfielder, a right attacking midfielder and he can play as a nine, very, very well.”
It’s unclear whether Arteta means as traditional number 9 (it seems unlikely given Smith Rowe isn’t blessed with the height of a target man) or as a ‘false nine’ – the position made famous by Johan Cruyff at Ajax and Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
We can certainly see the 21-year-old playing the latter, much like Roberto Firmino does at Liverpool and Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan do at Manchester City.
Like those mentioned above, Smith Rowe has the technical quality to receive the ball between the lines, the guile to dribble out of tight spaces and the pace you need to get back into the box once you’ve helped join up play.
Whether Arteta decides to experiment will likely depend on Alex Lacazette’s form. While the Frenchman is obviously a more physical presence in attack, his lack of mobility and goals, not to mention his contract situation, means he’s far from untouchable.
It’s one to watch in the coming weeks, especially with Smith Rowe pressuring Arteta for more game time following a spell nursing a calf problem.
“He lets you know if he’s not happy but he stepped on that training pitch ready every single day,” noted the Spaniard.
“First of all he was injured and when he came back he was not feeling at his best and we were gambling with an injury. He understood that the team were doing well. This is the competition you have to face.
“He did what he had to do. He worked harder and his performance against Brentford was excellent and a consequence of his preparation. He is a good character and a joy to have around.”