Mikel Arteta has assured Gabriel Martinelli that he is ‘very close’ to becoming a regular starter for Arsenal.
The 19-year-old Brazilian came on as a late substitute during Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Crystal Palace, providing the game changing goal in stoppage time before Nicolas Pepe wrapped up the three points minutes later.
Martinelli has struggled for game time this season despite a clamour from supporters and pundits for the youngster to start matches.
Signed from Brazilian third division side Ituano in the summer of 2019, Martinelli had only returned to action in November of last year following a serious knee injury which ruled him out for most of last season.
“He’s very close. He needs to keep fighting to be closer and closer,” said Arteta after the game.
“We need to understand where the boys are in the phase of their development and what they have done already this season and last season.
“I know that we want to play with 11 academy players under 20, but guys, who is doing that? We are doing more than anybody and they are going to have the chances, they are earning their chances, it’s not like we aren’t giving the chances.
“They are earning the chances and it’s a joy to have them with us.”
Former Arsenal player and coach Freddie Ljungberg also singled out Martinelli for praise during his pundit work with BT Sport on Wednesday night.
“He’s very special and he’s a lovely boy as well,” said Ljungberg.
“You hear how he speaks, of course he’s disappointed he’s not starting, it’s been a while. ‘He does so well but he’s saying I’m always ready when he wants me and it’s a dream for a manager to have.
“He has that instinct, he just gets there and he reads it so well. It’s not what you learn in a book. He has that feeling and he will score a lot of goals in his career.”
Meanwhile, Arteta says he is proud of how his team have responded to put themselves in contention for European qualification.
The Gunners were particularly poor over a run of games in November and December, but the Spaniard believes it is a sign of his team’s character that they have been able to claw back points going in to the final day.
“It was a crucial moment for us because we wanted to go into the final day with every chance of going into Europe,” he said.
“If somebody told us in November, December that we would have the chance to qualify for Europe in the last game, I would have said ‘you are crazy’.”
Arsenal could qualify for the European Conference League if they beat Brighton on Sunday and results go their way on the final day of the Premier League season.
Source by Football London