Sure, Arsenal lost, but Martinelli’s nutmeg ruined Henderson’s life

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Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli celebrates scoring his sides opening goal during the 2-0 Premier League victory over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, London. Wednesday December 15, 2021.

There is great power in youthful naivety.

When you’re a little kid, you are completely unrestricted by the social norms that condition your behaviour as an adult. You don’t give a shit what people think of you; if you want something, you’ll find a way to get it, rather creating a justification for not having it.

As a child, every little victory is a crucial learning experience. You’re not worried about the bigger picture, the long-term. You just content yourself with the mini-wins of the here and now.

And that brings us to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team, which, at the moment, is the footballing equivalent of a toddler. Of the 20 starting XIs with the youngest average age in the Premier League in 2022, Mikel Arteta has fielded 18.

Arsenal are good, they’re fun to watch, and they might even get into the top four this season. But if they were a person, they’d be in their infancy. Still teething, still throwing food at the wall, still pissing in their pants and crying when their dummy falls on the floor.

Sometimes, then, this Arsenal will likely run a bit too fast, trip on a paving slab and fall oversized-head-first onto the concrete floor. Which they very much did against a far more mature Liverpool outfit in their Premier League game on Wednesday night.

Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino punished them in the second half at the Emirates with two well-taken goals. But, like a toddler, let’s forget the bigger picture for a second, let’s disregard the long-term.

Rather than asking what impact this defeat might have on Arsenal’s chances of Champions League football next season, Arsenal fans, content yourselves with a mini-win of the here and now.

What mini-win might that be? Step forward, Gabriel Martinelli.

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Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli celebrates. Emirates Stadium, London. Wednesday December 15, 2021.

READ: ‘Talent of the century’: 15 of the best quotes about Gabriel Martinelli

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In among the Arsenal kids, the Brazilian is perhaps the fullest of childlike wonder, the player who best embodies that youthful creative streak and lack of inhibition.

And just after half-time, he took those wonderful traits and unleashed them to devastating effect.

Martinelli received a pass on the left wing from his compatriot and namesake Gabriel Magalhaes. But he didn’t have much support. In the same position, a more experienced, wilier operator would have given it back to a midfielder or defender, kept possession, maintained control.

Not Martinelli. First he dangled the ball in front of Trent Alexander-Arnold like a matador tempting a bull, drawing the Liverpool right-back in before whizzing past him in a dizzying flash of red and white.

But then again, Martinelli was trapped. Near the corner flag, hemmed in by five yellow shirts. Again, the sensible, mature option was to attempt to play it backwards.

Again, Martinelli did precisely the opposite. With Jordan Henderson standing a little too square on, Martinelli saw the opportunity for the mini-win. It was an opportunity he took, of course.

The ball slipped delightfully through the Liverpool captain’s legs and as Martinelli retrieved it on the other side, nipped by Alexander-Arnold once more and played it across the box, you could almost hear Henderson’s internal monologue, an existential crisis caused by the temerity of youth.

Why are ya still doing this, Jordan? What’s the point? Why submit yaself ta such ritual humiliation by these bloody whippersnappers.’

The passage of play came to nothing, unfortunately for the home fans. Not because Martinelli’s ball was poor but because none of his mates took a gamble at the near post.

And by the end, Henderson had probably recovered and remembered why it is he does this: Liverpool’s win kept their title challenge on course.

But in that brief moment, Martinelli had reminded us all of the sweet taste of childlike innocence. As Gary Neville put it on co-comms, “What a joy.”

Arsenal lost the war on Wednesday night, but they can content themselves with Martinelli’s victory in his battle down the left-hand side. In the Brazilian, they have a hell of a player.

Arsenal’s kids are alright.

Writing that, we can just imagine the delighted smile of Arsene Wenger as he sat at home sipping a drop of nicely chilled Riesling watching Martinelli shine.

By Joshua Law


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