Hotshot forwards leave Mikel Arteta with a welcome selection headache ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Norwich

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·3-min read
Hotshot forwards leave Mikel Arteta with a welcome selection headache ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Norwich
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Mikel Arteta has endured plenty of headaches during his Arsenal reign, but for once he now has a welcome one.

The fine form and rise of Gabriel Martinelli over the past month has left Arteta with a conundrum as he tries to find a way of fitting the Brazilian, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard into the same team.

So far Arteta has opted to leave one of the four out of his starting XI and it has been working well. Martinelli came off the bench to score against Newcastle, while Smith Rowe did the same against West Ham and Leeds.

“Well, we see the player every day and we know where the player has to be to be able to appear in the right frame, and then sustain that level into the season,” said Arteta, when discussing Martinelli’s recent run of starts.

“We’ve started to use Gabi more and more when we thought that was the case. There’s no point exposing a player even when there’s a lot of opinions that it has to be done because it won’t be beneficial for the player.”

Martinelli’s form has given Arteta a headache ahead of a Boxing Day trip to Norwich and Nicolas Pepe’s impressive performance against Sunderland on Tuesday, who are albeit a League One side, has only muddied the waters further.

Suddenly Arteta has options in attack, even if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still yet to be seen after a disciplinary breach earlier this month led to him being stripped of the captaincy.

The temptation for Arteta would be to drop Alexandre Lacazette so he can start Martinelli, Odegaard, Saka and Smith Rowe in what would be an exciting front-four - and one that would certainly please supporters. Arsenal fans have fallen in love with the club’s young stars and the idea of them playing as a unit would certainly appeal to them.

Long term, some at Arsenal believe Martinelli could end up as a striker, particularly because his finishing is so lethal. His hunger to press and chase defenders also makes him a viable focal point going forward.

During his early days in Brazil, Martinelli played as a striker but Unai Emery, who was in charge when he signed for Arsenal, thought his best position was on the left or right wing.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Arteta has followed suit and there is a belief it may also benefit Martinelli to play out wide as he develops, because there is more space out there and it’s not as physical as leading the line in the Premier League. Arsene Wenger had a similar thought process with Theo Walcott, although he never ended up playing through the middle regularly.

Martinelli may fall into the same bracket and, truth be told, in the modern game a goal-scoring wide forward is just as common as a lethal No9. A few years ago that was Aubameyang’s role, while Mohamed Salah up at Liverpool is the perfect example of how goals can come from out wide.

Right now, that certainly feels like the best role for Martinelli and, even if a shift to the middle is to come one day, this does not seem like the moment for it.

Lacazette’s role in this Arsenal team should not be unstated, both in terms of his leadership and what he offers tactically. This is an exceptionally young side and a leader like Lacazette, who is wearing the armband in Aubameyang’s absence, is needed.

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Tactically too he is a vital cog in the machine, linking play and pulling defenders around to create space for Arsenal’s young stars. That was evident at Leeds and, while Lacazette didn’t get any of the headlines, it will not have gone unnoticed by Arteta.

It all means Arteta may have to face the difficult decision each week of deciding who to bench out of Martinelli, Odegaard, Saka and Smith Rowe.

But, given this time a year ago Arsenal were flirting just above the relegation places, Arteta will be pleased that this is his biggest concern.

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