Gabriel Martinelli after the UEFA Europa League match between Sporting Lisbon and Arsenal at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon, March 2023.

Gabriel Martinelli was inches away from eclipsing Messi & Maradona

The gently setting early-spring sun in Portugal’s capital city was the setting for Gabriel Martinelli’s shot at immortality.

Arsenal were involved in an engaging tussle against Sporting Lisbon, with the sides having both metaphorical and literal blows, when Martinelli received possession inside his own half and saw the Atlantic sea part in front of him.

The Brazil international, who has reignited his season after a sticky post-World Cup spell, is known for his frightening acceleration. The kind that leaves defenders reaching for their inhalers and a change of trousers.

Or the kind that leaves opposition managers telling their scouts to sack off their current search of South America and sign the contestants of the last Olympic 100m final instead.

With Sporting Lisbon holding a 2-1 lead, in the same precarious manner that you’d carry six pints back from the bar at once, Martinelli motored past three defenders and set his sights on goal.

After shaking off the final challenge, it seemed inevitable that the Arsenal youngster would cap his mazy run with a finish and ensure his place on YouTube goal compilations forever more.

But we all reckoned without Jeremiah St. Juste. Given a pace rating of 93 on FIFA 23, St. Juste was just about the only human in Lisbon with the capability of executing a goal-saving tackle.

And that’s exactly what happened.

For five brief and thrilling seconds, Martinelli had looked like scoring the kind of solo goal that’d leave Messi and Maradona’s previous efforts looking like a Sunday League one-yarder.

Assessing Arsenal’s performance in Thursday’s 2-2 draw as a whole, Mikel Arteta said: “We had periods in the game where we were in a lot of control, but we lacked a little bit of strength in the final third because obviously we had to adjust today with the players we did not have available.

“I think we conceded two very poor goals that we have to do better on and show much more determination to defend our box in those moments.

“At that level away from home, it puts the tie in a really difficult position but we managed to react. We had periods in the second half where we were much better.”

Meanwhile, when asked if Saka and Martinelli are the two best wingers in Europe before the match, St. Juste said: “Yeah, I think so.

“They have a lot of quality and they prove that weekly at the highest level so it’s going to be an exciting challenge.”

Arteta has used Martinelli as a false nine in recent weeks, presumably after spotting Eddie Nketiah running on fumes, and he’s responded with a string of vital goals and plucky performances.

“We play for Arsenal and I think everyone has this responsibility,” he said previously. “I am happy to play as a No9 or on the wing. It is up to Mikel. If I am on the team, I can play as a goalkeeper. I don’t mind.”

But, considering his exploits in Lisbon on Thursday night, we reckon he should stay up front for now.

By Michael Lee

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