Gabriel Martinelli heading to World Cup with Brazil three years after leaving country’s fourth tier

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Just over three years since he left the country’s fourth tier behind, Gabriel Martinelli is heading to the World Cup as one of Brazil’s brightest hopes this month following a rapid rise in the Premier League.

While his countrymen were contesting the last tournament in Russia four years ago – where they were eventually dumped out in the quarter-final by Belgium – Martinelli was busy plying his trade as a 17-year-old prospect for Sao Paulo club Ituano, who operated in Brazil’s Serie D at the time.

It speaks volumes about the Guarulhos boy’s astonishing ascent, then, that a mere 40 months after swapping Ituano for Arsenal and the riches of the Premier League he is now set to pull on the famous Selecao shirt on the grandest of stages.

Gabriel Martinelli has enjoyed a rapid rise since moving to Arsenal from Brazil’s fourth tier

During the 2018 World Cup, Martinelli was busy plying his trade with Serie D club Ituano

During the 2018 World Cup, Martinelli was busy plying his trade with Serie D club Ituano

Now he is heading to the 2022 tournament with Brazil after impressing for the Gunners

Now he is heading to the 2022 tournament with Brazil after impressing for the Gunners

A former futsal player for Corinthians, Martinelli joined Ituano in 2015 and signed professional terms two years later, before registering ten goals in his first 34 appearances.

He reportedly caught the eye of several top European clubs, yet it was Arsenal who moved quickest to secure his signature, completing a £6million deal to bring him to England in the summer of 2019.

As an 18-year-old heading over from Brazil’s lower leagues, the initial plan was for Martinelli to spend time in Arsenal’s reserve and academy sides before later making the step up to the senior squad. A loan move abroad was even mooted to aid his development.

However, that soon changed when the youngster showcased his speed, intelligence and tenacity on their pre-season tour of America, which convinced then-boss Unai Emery to keep him in his first-team plans that year.

Emery was later rewarded when he scored a brace on his first competitive start, coming in a 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup.  

‘Martinelli is a very young player but he came here and we were waiting and watching him, how he could improve with us,’ Emery said after the game. ‘He played very well. He was working each training with a big spirit and with a big performance.

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‘I spoke with him to have some patience to get his opportunity to play, to do like he was doing in training and in the matches in pre-season and tonight he did that and really he deserved it because he’s a very humble player.

Martinelli burst onto the scene at Arsenal by scoring three braces in the space of a month

Martinelli burst onto the scene at Arsenal by scoring three braces in the space of a month

Jurgen Klopp described him as 'the talent of the century' after his double away at Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp described him as ‘the talent of the century’ after his double away at Liverpool

‘He fights, he is hungry to have that opportunity to help us and his work was perfect tonight.’

Incredibly, Martinelli’s brace against Forest was the first of three he produced in just over a month for Arsenal. 

He was at the double again in a 4-0 Europa League win over Standard Liege two weeks later, before repeating the trick in a pulsating 5-5 Carabao Cup draw with Liverpool – who prevailed on penalties – at the end of October.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp became a huge admirer of Arsenal’s young star that night, saying: ‘[Liverpool’s Sepp Van den Berg] played an incredible game. That’s really difficult to deal with these guys. 

‘Martinelli’s pretty much the same age but he’s a talent of the century, he’s an incredible striker, so it’s really difficult.’

He had made a blistering start to life in English football, though even Martinelli’s early success was not enough to save Emery’s job at the Emirates.

The Spaniard was sacked amid a poor run of form in November and briefly replaced by interim boss Freddie Ljungberg, who likened their new kid on the block’s relentless energy to that of a battery.

‘Martinelli did amazingly,’ Ljungberg said after guiding Arsenal to a win over West Ham. ‘He is like a Duracell battery, he keeps going.’ 

Gunners interim boss Freddie Ljungberg chose the phrase 'Duracell battery' to sum him up

Gunners interim boss Freddie Ljungberg chose the phrase ‘Duracell battery’ to sum him up

Over the past three years Mikel Arteta has been the one tasked with overseeing Martinelli’s progression at Arsenal. 

He arrived as Emery’s permanent replacement in December 2019 and, despite being unconvinced himself, was straight away urged to make the most of the talent on his hands. 

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‘They said, ‘you will be surprised how prepared he is to compete with any other player in this squad’, and I thought, ‘yeah, OK, but he is 18′,’ Arteta recalled in his early days as Gunners boss. ‘But when you see him in big games and how he goes about everything, it is surprising.

‘I heard a lot of things about Gabi before I joined but the moment I saw him training, it confirmed all the things I was told before. I think the way he competes, and how brave he is with every decision he makes on the pitch, is very unusual for an 18 year-old.’

While the majority of his starts came in cup competitions, on the whole Martinelli proved a revelation in his debut campaign at Arsenal, offering fans a glimpse of his breathtaking potential and scoring some important goals along the way.

None were more important than his strike away at Chelsea in January 2020, which helped Arteta’s men claim a crucial 2-2 draw and was even voted their goal of the season.

Martinelli's strike away at Chelsea in January 2020 was one of his most important for Arsenal

Martinelli’s strike away at Chelsea in January 2020 was one of his most important for Arsenal

The youngster held his nerve at Stamford Bridge and the celebration personified his coolness

The youngster held his nerve at Stamford Bridge and the celebration personified his coolness

Mikel Arteta has been tasked with aiding his development in recent years

Mikel Arteta has been tasked with aiding his development in recent years

After Shkodran Mustafi headed away a Chelsea corner, the ball fell into Martinelli’s path on the edge of the box and he sprinted away towards the halfway line.

N’Golo Kante looked well positioned to stop him in his tracks, but when he lost his footing and slipped to the floor the Brazilian was left with a clear sight of goal.

Some young players may have cracked under pressure and squandered the opportunity, or even squared it to a team-mate in a better position. Martinelli, however, raced through and neatly converted to bring Arsenal level. 

And the ice-cold celebration which followed, as he stood with his arms crossed in front of the travelling Gunners support, couldn’t have been more fitting.

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That vital contribution was enough to earn him lofty praise from then-colleague Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who took to Twitter to wax lyrical about his fellow frontman.  

‘Gabi’s gonna be a superstar,’ Aubameyang wrote. ‘Not because of the Goal because of the attitude Energy and mindset’. 

Almost three years on from that glowing assessment, Aubameyang was left red-faced as Martinelli starred in a dominant Arsenal performance at Chelsea last weekend, but this time with the former in blue. It demonstrated just how little they miss him.

Because while it may be early days, Arteta appears to have constructed a team capable of running Manchester City close in the Premier League title race this season and the 21-year-old is a key part of it. 

Having been made to wait for a regular starting spot, over the past 18 months Martinelli has become one of Arsenal’s most influential attackers.

Martinelli is now a crucial member of the Arsenal side threatening a title charge in 2022-23

Martinelli is now a crucial member of the Arsenal side threatening a title charge in 2022-23

Arsenal fans were often left puzzled by his lack of game time, though few can argue with Arteta’s cautious approach now that Martinelli is hitting full stride for his table-toppers.

So far this season he has recorded five goals and two assists from 13 Premier League appearances, a tally which has helped the Gunners establish an early lead over City at the summit. And in turn, it has also convinced Brazil boss Tite to take him to Qatar this month.

On Monday Martinelli made the cut in his country’s 26-man World Cup squad, beating the likes of Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Barbosa to a place in attack.

And after his place at the major tournament was confirmed, the Ituano graduate couldn’t contain his delight.

‘Never give up your dreams,’ he wrote on Twitter this week. ‘A proud moment for me and my family, as I have the chance to represent my country in a World Cup. QATAR 2022!!’

Seven months before his 22nd birthday, Martinelli has already sealed a remarkable rags to riches story in just three years. The sky certainly feels the limit right now as he prepares to board the plane to Qatar. 



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