Heading into their 2023-24 Premier League campaign off the back of letting the 2022-23 title slip through their grasp during the final stretch of the season, all eyes were on Arsenal to make a strong start at home to Nottingham Forest in their season opener.
That pressure was ramped up an extra 10% with Manchester City getting off to a winning start away at Burnley the night before, and the fact that disgruntled fans had been locked outside of the Emirates due to a ticketing issue before kick-off, delaying the game by half an hour.
Draw that on your whiteboard, Mikel. No pressure.
Arsenal have invested significantly over the summer to try and turn a squad of nearly men into undisputed champions this season, thus a curtain opener at home to a side whose transfer strategy last season couldn’t have looked anymore FIFA Career Mode if they tried was the perfect chance to get off to a strong, winning start and establish some feel-good vibes early doors.
As always, though, that’s very much easier said than done. Especially when you’re expected to win as is, and your kick-off has now been delayed by half an hour. With the pressure completely off Forest and the home crowd disgruntled, it had all the hallmarks of a trademark early kick-off upset.
Until it didn’t. Because of Gabriel Martinelli and his sickeningly good footwork.
From Sao Paulo to Shenley, Martinelli has spent his formative years mastering his craft at London Colney and at the Emirates on a weekend, blending his trademark Brazilian flair with a bullish approach he continues to develop. At just 22, the Brazilian is frighteningly technically gifted and has bounced back from early injury scares to establish himself as one of the most nightmarish wingers to come up against in the Premier League.
Seriously, bring your deep heat and your deep freeze if you’re tasked with marking him. The lad – when in full stride – will have your ankles and your knees melting away like an ice lolly left out in the sun.
And when he is in full stride, there’s absolutely no need to worry about any kind of early kick-off jinx, as he proved after just 26 minutes against Forest with what is already a contender for assist of the season.
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) August 12, 2023
Does he mean it? Possibly not. But if you ask him he’d say yes. And besides, who cares?
Only a small handful of wingers in the Premier League are capable of pulling off a roulette as smooth as that, let alone threading it through an immensely tight gap and into the path of their colleague for an outrageous assist.
In the opening game of the season, where expectations are high and nerves are even higher with fans desperate to see their side go toe to toe with the champions once again, Martinelli shouldered every emotion in the stadium, threw it onto his back, sealed it all in a bag filled to the brim with Joga Bonito and channelled the inner Ronaldinho that undoubtedly fuelled his childhood aspirations of making it as a footballer.
That takes some serious stones. But he’s proven he has them.
Bukayo Saka would steal the show shortly after with a stunning strike of his own, but it’s Martinelli we’re gushing over. Flair, aggression, technique and end product in abundance, the guy is a menace and taking steps towards filling the Ronaldinho and Neymar-shaped shoes that remain ready to be claimed by the next generation.