Despite illness ruling him out of Arsenal’s win over Aston Villa, Gabriel Martinelli flew to Brazil on Sunday evening to join up with his country’s senior squad for the first time ever.
Given he was playing fourth-tier football in his homeland this time three years ago, it’s a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment for the 20-year-old who was starting to wonder if he’d get a chance to stake a claim for a place in the Seleção’s squad for Qatar 2022.
While Martinelli impressed for Brazil’s under-23s at the Tokyo Olympics, he didn’t get the nod for any of his country’s World Cup qualifiers as they made light work of topping the CONMEBOL rankings.
A run of good form for the Gunners finally persuaded head coach Tite to take a closer look.
“I still had hope,” said Martinelli in an interview with Globo.com.
“I was doing my best at Arsenal, doing my job to dig an opportunity. Thank God the opportunity came, I’ll try to make the best of it.”
It sounds like it was an emotional moment for those close to the player as news of his call-up was announced.
“When I got home [from training], I went through the door, sat on the couch with my dad, and Tite started saying the summons. I was very happy, with my father, my agents were also here. It was a very special moment, for being the first. It will forever be etched in my memory. As I said, I’ll try to make the best of it.”
He added: “Everyone has a great affection for Brazil, the players of our team when they talk about Brazil know that we had many quality players and we still have them today.
“Lacazette always makes fun of me and Gab [Gabriel Magalhães]. Even being from other countries, there is this recognition of the Brazilian team. In my opinion, it remains one of the greatest shirts in the world.”
Given the incredible attacking talent at Brazil’s disposal, Martinelli knows he has his work cut out in the next eight months if his World Cup ambitions are to come true.
“We have many stars in our team,” he said. “I will try to take advantage of the opportunity in the best way. All are great players, but each has its strengths. Neymar has his, Vinicius Jr has his, Antony has his. I will do my best to get my place in the World Cup.”
On his best position, he revealed: “I prefer to play on the sides, the left side specifically. But I also like to reach the area a lot with a chance to finish, so if the ball is left I’ll be in a good condition to score.
“I can also play on the right side, but my favourite position is on the left wing, infiltrating and being as close to the goal as possible.”
Martinelli also touched on how he’s managed to adapt in England, revealing the presence of his family and a Brazilian chef has helped smooth the way.
He also noted that his English improved rapidly during the months he was nursing a knee injury because he had to speak English with the club’s physiotherapists
Confident enough to conduct interviews in English, Martinelli will actually count as a homegrown player from next season having spent three years in the Gunners’ set-up prior to his 21st birthday.
He’s clearly comfortable in his surroundings, saying recently he’d happily stay at Emirates Stadium for the rest of his career. It appears that’s driven by his confidence in the quality around him in the dressing room.
“We had a very big revamp, our team has many youngsters, 23, 20 years old. We have a future ahead of us, if we keep this team, we can fight for titles in the following seasons, we will fight for that.
“This season we will fight for fourth place, to go to the Champions League, and then fight for the Champions League.”