Three Big Dilemmas for Arteta: Nr2 – Saka or Martinelli?

Silverware in the trophy cabinet is the ultimate goal, and it really feels fantastic to have added another shiny pot to Arsenal’s, earlier this month. An unexpected gift from Mikel and the boys and one that sees us back in Europe this season as well. There were a few highs and a great many lows during the C19-interupted season, but it would always have been a half-decent one in terms of footballing memories. And there is no greater (football) gift than happy experiences and memories. 

Auba treated us to some sumptuous goals and who can forget those Laca blasts past the Spuds’ goalie, home AND away, this season? Furthermore, there was the growth as the season went on of Ceballos and Pepster; the tenacity, runs and crosses of Tierney; the rebirth of Xhaka, Mustafi and Luiz, and; there were two youngsters who really impressed and gave us some considerable hope of top quality football in the future: Saka and Martinelli.

Gabriel’s goal v Chelsea away will surely never be forgotten and neither will be Saka’s phenomenal crosses and passes whilst holding his head up to pick the very best option.

Time will of course tell but we are looking at two of the most promising youngsters in Europe, I reckon.

See the source image

I thought it was a clever move by Mikel to not overplay Saka and Martinelli so they would not get a bad injury, as so often had happened with talented youngsters at Arsenal during the Wenger years. Unfortunately, the young Brazilian still got injured during a training session, and he is likely to miss the first few weeks, if not months, of the new season.

Young Saka, he is only 18, managed to play an impressive 1755 PL minutes; only six Gunners played more in the league. He was mostly played as a wingback but still managed to produce 5 assists and 1 PL goal.

Feisty Martinelli, he is 19, managed 657 minutes in which he scored 3 PL goals but had no assists.

Both really shun in the Europa League with Bukayo scoring 1 goal and producing an impressive 5 assists and Gabriel, who equally stood out, scoring 3 goals and producing 2 assists. It was great to see them work together and they clearly enjoy playing football together. 

What is really impressive is that they are already contributing to the bread and butter stuff of football: goals and assists. After Ozil, Pepe and Ceballos, Saka also produced the most key passes; and Martinelli is our fourth highest goal scorer in the league (behind Auba, Laca and Pepe).

So I think it is fair to say that we have two fabulous prospects on our hands and Arteta will need to give them a lot of PL time as to develop them further. But how can they fit into a team that is most likely to include Auba, Laca, Pepe, Willian and Eddie (who also really impressed since his return from Leeds)?

Surely, when all are fit Areta will face another dilemma in terms of keeping everybody happy and developing our talents as quickly as possible in the meantime?

Here are some questions for you:

  1. Do you agree that they are very talented and should get plenty of PL playing time this season?
  2. Or should one or both go out on loan (till January)?
  3. Where would you play them and would you play them together in a PL match?
  4. In order to develop them into regular PL starters, do we need to let go one or two of Auba, Laca, Eddie or Pepe?
  5. What do you think the potential is of both players in terms of PL goals/assists, if they get to play around 2000 minutes of football each?

By TotalArsenal.



78 thoughts on “Three Big Dilemmas for Arteta: Nr2 – Saka or Martinelli?

  • Somehow, I thought this one was coming, as far as dilemmas for Arteta go; nice work then, TA. Just as is the consensus with Martinez, no way would either player wish to take the back seat after getting the taste for it, so yes, they both deserve to get their chances in the PL but should be certainties in the cups.

    If we do have a proliferation of attack minded players (say, no sale of Laca or loan for Eddie) and few (or no) injuries, obviously youngsters would give anything to get the chance to play, even if on loan at a lower division side. But it is a long season, with many competitions so, if Arteta can keep everyone happy with games every now and then, best they stay put and gain from the older players at THOF.

    Interestingly, while Martinelli did play from the left when he arrived, he handled the role pretty much like Auba does: with an eye for the central area so as to be in the goals. Saka, on the other hand, plays strictly from the wings except on the odd occasion he’s been required to play in the hole (the middle). So, in a way, these two offer different skill sets, reflected in the sheer number of assists Saka has over Martinelli; and the better goals stat for Martinelli. I think we are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in talented kids, and then to have this duo. Chuffed! At 18, Saka is so composed in the opponent’s area it is unreal. Then, there was a period when it seemed Martinelli couldn’t stop scoring.

    If they get to play many minutes, you are more likely to see Saka produce more assists and key passes, while Martinelli is certain to score more goals. I fully expect them to be the main men in the early stages of the Europa league and FA cup, but they are capable of going all the way for us in the league cup. Hopefully, that gives them the game time required to be more PL-ready. Arteta must operate by the maxim: IF YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH, YOU ARE OLD ENOUGH!

  • PS: indeed, Lacazette does have a knack for hitting fine strikes against his fellow countryman in goal for the Spuds. Maybe that was the motivation for Giroud too, who also loved scoring against Hugo Lloris.

  • 1. Europa qualification was immensely important for our young players. With cup games, Europa and the congested fixture list, there will be plenty of minutes to go around. Both are very talented and will get PL minutes, but definitely less than Auba/Laca/Pepe (as things stand, I could see Willian even shifting to CAM/CM).

    2. No, it’s rare for 18 year olds to crack the first team, but when they do, they’re special and don’t need to be loaned out. Martinelli is likely out until January 2021 and Saka’s healthy – we need depth at wing and he will start in Europa and cup games, along with PL games here and there. He’s also our best cover at LB should Tierney need a rest (sorry Kolasinac but you just aren’t that good).

    3. I would play Saka at LW, RW, CM, LB in that order (as per the types of games I listed in 1&2). I would play Martinelli at RW, LW, ST in that order once he’s fully fit with maybe Nelson going out on loan in January if he’s failed to impress.

    4. No, but if Laca fetches us a decent quid, I would sell him to fund a new transformative CM player like Partey or Aouar and shift Auba to ST.

    5. Way too difficult to assess since I’m hoping they don’t have to play 2000 mins in the prem this season!

  • Great post, TA. I start to wonder what will be the dilemma #1, if this qualified only for the 2nd spot.
    First and foremost the club (and Mikel) brought this dilemma by signing Willan, thus having a must-play high-earning winger on top of Auba (played on the left wing most games), Pepe, Martinelli Saka and Nelson. Now the challenge has increased, as even Lacazette is sold or Eddie is loaned out again (meaning the Aubameyang can play up front with his new contract) we have more than 4 close to world class wingers; so even if Saka would be fine playing in the cup ties there has to be a 5th choice winger which is – in my opinion – somewhere between downright tragedy and plain incompetence. (Not to mention that according to some pundits and fans we should go for a cut-price deal for Zaha.) Martinelli playing ST wouldn’t change much, as we already have capable strikers, so that would mostly push the pressure onto Nketiah.

    So unless Willian moves to (his preferred?) AM position we probably have to loan one of our junior wingers. And since they are really good, we should find them a club either in the PL or one of the other top 5 leagues, where whoever goes will regularly play. Germany could be one of the destinations (mostly for Nelson), but Martinelli could thrive in Spain. Saka shoud not leave England due to inexperience and language barriers, but who am I to limit the options?

    (p.s.: I’m in Brussels now, after leaving the Netherlands where the people – expectedly – and the weather – surprisingly – were really nice, but the 100km/h highway speed limit and the 4€/h parking fee were driving me crazy.)

  • And to answer your last question, I think both of them are capable to provide a goal contribution every other game, so I expect 11-12 (but secretly hope for 14-16) goals/assists in 2000 minutes.

  • OT.
    Lyon have got the taste for the big scalp now, haven’t they? They’ve started menacingly and already missed a couple of half chances. Bayern look surprised by how aggressive and offensive Lyon are.

    For me, I think it is PSG’s year, whichever of these teams that makes it to the final.

  • That’s what happens when you don’t take the early chances that came. Gnabry fires in a rocket for the first for Bayern.

  • Cheers HH, some sensible responses there. I didn’t know Marti could be out till January. If so then it is less of a headache for Arseteta. 👍

  • Cheers PB, we needed Willian for his skills more than the position he usually plays in. I reckon Arteta convinced Willian to come by promising him a more central role, so your perception of possible incompetence may be incorrect.

  • Brussels has two great art museums, especially the modern art one is worth a visit. Good to hear you have bernsubsidysing the Dutch road works with parking tickets 😀

  • Yes TA is correct, Willian offers a skill set that we currently lack:

    1) An ability to keep possession of the ball high up the pitch
    2) Creativity (chance creation and key passes)
    3) Dribbling at opponents to break down a low block
    4) Ability to take the game by the scruff of its neck when nothing or no one else is effective
    5) Ability to play at both wing or CAM/CM

  • Looks like it’s happening, Gabriel on a 5 year deal to Arsenal with a medical happening tomorrow. First reported by L’equipe and now confirmed by head football correspondents at the Telegraph, The Times and others!

  • Good news….not that I know a thing about him, other than the glowing reports I have been reading. The future looks bright, for sure. Now, to get Partey, or someone equally strong, for our defensive midfield.

  • PSG, with Neymar (hope he escapes disciplinary action and features) and Mbappe is capable of keeping Bayern honest. I expect them to get their first CL cup win. Thomas Tuchel will push his side to achieve this.

  • Another great post Total although there’s not a lot I can add to the above.

    What I love about this group of players is their flexibility and that’s why I wouldn’t tie many of them down to specific roles in the team because their strength is that versatility and how they can switch roles and positions in games. Interchangeable, technical, unified, Arteta has them hungry and motivated and his recent comments about how closely he’s going to be watching them when they return in case he detects any drop off in commitment and effort is the first shot across the bow aimed at keeping them on their toes. Mikel is a very smart cookie indeed…

    I’m not too sure about loaning out any of our young players as I think we’ll need them all as we do have a shed load of club games and internationals to get through in a very congested programme.
    You only need two or three injuries and the problems start to stack up.

    If the club can bring in the players we’ve all read about, all three of them, then there’s some wiggle room to maybe sell a couple or three to balance the books but none of our youngsters, not for me.
    Arteta can review everything again in January.

    Saka will get plenty of game time especially with 5 subs and plenty of rotation so we hopefully avoid soft tissue injuries as much as we can.

    Smith Rowe will play and maybe other youngsters who can catch the eye of Arteta in pre season will get a chance much as Nketiah did a few months ago, so a good pre season could propel a John Jules or a Osei Tutu into the frame?

    The more the merrier for me.

  • TA, looks like half of your prediction and half of mine was correct for the CL final. Gnabry looked great tonight, shame Wenger was a goof and loaned him to West Brom with Tony Pulis (who’d have thought that’d be a disaster? Oh wait, me!).

    As a Canadian, I’m very happy to see Alphonso Davies’ success starts Bayern. Best Canadian footballer ever!

  • @allezkev

    I would love to see John-Jules break through but it’s looking congested up top right now. He’s like a taller and faster Lacazette and homegrown – who wouldn’t like that?!

    Osei-Tutu had a good loan spell in Germany’s second division when he moved to RW. Bit afraid that we’re too well stocked there and that he’s most likely to be sold since he only has a year left on his contract unless we loan Nelson out.

    If ESR can stay healthy, I have no doubt that he’ll thrive under Arteta as a player with similar functionality as De Bruyne.

  • Good point about interchangeability, Kevinksi. Both players offer this in spades.

    Smith Rowe now there is a player who needs to have a good (early) season to kick start his career at Arsenal. Like you I have high hopes for him.

  • John Jules looks the real deal for sure HH, he reminds me of (whisper this when TA is around) RVP, in that you can see him playing across the forward line and in the hole. I’d love to see him involved in the Charity Shield.

    Osei Tutu has one hell of a job on his hands HH with Bellerin, Soares, Pepe, Nelson and now Willian in front of him along the right flank and you are probably right about his chances, but Arteta will give you a chance if you work hard enough and of course if you have the quality. JOT could do a job as a right wing back, in fact his skill set could be perfect for that position so it’s up to him I guess.

    Total, I think the fixtures look favourable for Arteta with our toughest away games coming early in the season and with the prospect of no fans or a very reduced attendance to influence the referee.

    Smith Rowe strutting his stuff at Wembley could be entertaining Total…

  • Yes Kev, Pool and Citeh away in the space of three weeks early on will be a challenge, but with our recent record against the ‘top clubs’ we can be hopeful.

  • Chelsea (a) could be a key match up Total, but the rest of May looks manageable, having said that Palace and Brighton have been difficult to deal with over the last two seasons.

  • Wonder what Ceballos meant in his Instagram story saying Happy Birthday Joe, see you soon 👀?

  • Here they are folks – our 2020/21 EPL fixtures.

    1 Fulham A
    2 West Ham H
    3 Liverpool A
    4 Sheffield U H
    5 Man City A
    6 Leicester C H
    7 Man U A
    8 Aston Villa H
    9 Leeds A
    10 Wolves H
    11 Tottenham A
    12 Burnley H
    13 Southampton H
    14 Everton A
    15 Chelsea H
    16 Brighton A
    17 West Brom A
    18 Crystal Palace H
    19 Newcastle H
    20 Southampton A
    21 Man U H
    22 Wolves A
    23 Aston Villa A
    24 Leeds H
    25 Man City H
    26 Leicester C A
    27 Burnley A
    28 Tottenham H
    29 West Ham A
    30 Liverpool H
    31 Sheffield U A
    32 Fulham H
    33 Everton H
    34 Newcastle A
    35 West Brom H
    36 Chelsea A
    37 Crystal Palace A
    38 Brighton H

  • Hmm, Hey Joe could be some good Ceballos news HH…

    Joe Hart, now that’s an interesting move, as a No.2 he’s a good fit and he’ll be cheap although not your usual Mourinho business but needs must. It does kind of show where we all are post lockdown Total…

  • Thanks for the fixtures GN5…

    There isn’t really any point in showing the dates of the matches because 80% will be moved by television…

  • Spuds, like us, depend on match day box office income to pay for the wages etc, but their stadium costs must be sky high. Joe Hart is the sort of signing that would fit that situation. Goseeh not being able to buy a good one off season will hurt him.. 👍 👍 👍

  • Not sure if anyone else watched the Lyon/Bayern match yesterday, but I walked away quite impressed with Maxence Caqueret.

    He’s unfortunately small and light, but seems to play bigger than his size. Could be an example of buying a player before he breaks out – seems like he could Lyon’s next star if Aouar leaves.

  • @TA, it’s because he’s the type of player that does all the dirty work to win the ball back and does all the little things to allow his teammates to shine. His positioning and movement are very advanced for his age. He knows how to receive a pass and use feints to create space, where to move to break down a low block and where to go to relieve pressure from a press.

    I think he’ll explode onto the scene soon, this was just his first season with the senior team. He impressed me against Juve and City too.

  • The never ending circus around Gabriel continues. Folks saying no deal has been confirmed and that United have entered the race…

  • Maybe I wasn’t phrasing it properly earlier. I don’t mean signing Willian incompetence per se, but heading the season with 8 attackers (excluding Özil and ESR) in any of the 3-4-3, 4-3-3, 5-2-3 formations is still unprofessional to me. So we either sell/loan a couple of players (to be able to supply our young starlets with proper minutes) or start working on a formation with 4 attackers – either with 2 strikers and 2 wingers or LW + AM + RW + ST (like Bayern and MU). Otherwise the club’s management will have to deal with my disappointment, which will surely cause them countless of sleepless nights. 🙂

  • Martinelli is out until January, so it’s really only 7 attackers.

    Saka and Willian are both versatile and can play a variety of roles. Saka can play wing, CM and LB, while Willian can play at ST, wing or CAM.

    I really don’t see the issue unless you haven’t taken a close look at the fixture list (PL, cups and Europa). We have so many games to play next season, so it’ll be good to get players rested and have the young guys play the Cup and Europa group stage games with the odd PL start.

  • Get French Football News
    Sky in the UK say that PSG have also been in touch with Lille defender Gabriel today.

  • @allezkev, they also just said PSG and United are far away and not close to a deal.

    The circus continues!

  • PB, it may be a bit much in attack but if Arteta were to play with a nr10 it would be OK. And HH has got a point with the number of fixtures. I also think that Nelson or Eddie will go out on loan and would not be surprised if Laca gets sold.

  • I would support sending Nelson and/or Eddie on loan. To strong leagues and guaranteed playing times of course…
    But the fixtures are not an issue in my opinion. In fact that is the reason for needing 2 sets of players. Worst case scenario Auba or Pepe plays a cup tie before Martinelli returns. I still don’t see the reason for so many players in attack. Unless Arteta reintroduces the #10 role – which would make things interesting, and could increase the number of key passes and chances created.

    Do we know anything on the pre-season? Liverpool plays against Stuttgart and Salzburg before the Charity Shield. Is there any intel on our preparation matches?

  • PB, just think about the injuries we’ve had over the years; we need more than 6 attackers.

    Depth and versatility will be key. Arteta likes to keep the formation fluid depending on what he thinks we’ll need and it’s very possible Willian can also play as an 8/10 in a 4-3-3 too. Condensed schedule has us starting in September and finishing by end of May!

  • Apparently, Ceballos’ message was for Joe Willock, who celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday. Nice touch.

  • Matching 1) 22 October 2020
    Matchday 2 29 October 2020
    Matchday 3 5 November 2020
    Matchday 4 26 November 2020
    Matchday 5 3 December 2020
    Matchday 6 10 December 2020

  • Anyone interested in seeing if we can transition Saka to CM full-time? He seems to have all the qualities to play as a CM, but that could really be said for him in any position!

    Elneny back training with the first team this weekend. Wonder if he’ll be able to make an impression on Arteta and force his way into the team.

  • We really won’t be Total, it’ll be on us before we realise it, but I love it so I’m not complaining. 😄

    There will also be two rounds of the Carabao League Cup in September and one round in December so if you add in Internationals to that mix our players won’t be getting a lot of time off, the squad will be stretched but with thoughtful rotation and the use of 5 subs I reckon we’ll be ok.

  • Been thinking about writing something on Arteta and his desire for versatility and tactical flexibility but not sure if it’s something already discussed or something people would be interested in!

  • TA, go ahead and do your article! I have a few ideas, maybe I’ll list a few topics and see what the wonderful folks on here want to read about 🙂

  • 20.47
    inter 2 sevilla 2
    tremendously pleasant game
    something like the very best of grassroots football, played by two teams coached by highly-rated 21sr century managers
    all best-laid plans out the window after 2 minutes; as disorganized a game as tactics-haters love (i confess: i’m one of them, sometimes)
    a special thought for young: i know how repulsive he may have often been for us arsenal fans, but what a professional … versatile, committed, intelligent enough to have changed position and kept improving; just like milner he’s the perfect soldier any top-level team needs
    ainsley’s one of these guys imo; selling him – and to you-know-who, in particular – would be the worst mistake this club has ever made

  • Salah-Eddine from Feyenoord on a free, 17 year old b2b Dutch kid, to add to Lewis, Akinola and Dinzeyi although the last one has not been confirmed, also an ex-QPR 16 year old on trial, maybe a lot of these kids being released as cost cutting measures?

  • Cheers LeG, I cannot share your enthusiasm for Young but good to read your thinking. Loved that manager of Seville – seems a great human being.

    Agreed re Ainsley.

  • It definitely seems a change in policy Total, during this period in particular especially with so many of our better prospects going out on loan as the U23’s need players to cover for the loanees and if one or two of them develop it’s a win win situation. Akinola looks the most interesting to me even if he needs to maybe rein in his tackling a tad as it’ll get him booked.

    I read that West Ham are looking to move on Jack Wilshere who is still only 28.
    Arsenal have a young kid called Omari Hutchinson in the U18’s and he has all the same touches and techniques that a young Jack had, I just hope that the club protect him better.

  • I just noticed your comment HH – it’s good to (virtually) meet you as well. I’ve been blogging for what seems a life time and this is the first time our paths have crossed. I’m really happy that you are blogging on BK because you are yet another fine addition to the BK portfolio of knowledgeable football commenters.

  • GN5 I did have a passenger last year who worked at Arsenal and one of the things she said about Raul was that he wanted to bring in the Chelsea model of doing things to our academy, which is pretty much what you suggested.

    If you look back a year ago, Arsenal sold the likes of Bielik, Asano, Amaechi, Thompson and Burton for a total of £19.3m, none of them had played 1st team football for Arsenal.
    In the past we probably would have let most of leave for free.

  • Kev,

    Personally I find it a sound way to run an academy as it gives Arsenal the best of both worlds – it keeps the cost down and increases our chances of finding the hidden gems – and Per is the ideal person to trust in that position.

    Talking about gems – not much has been said about us selling Gnaby – how the heck did we let that happen. It deserves some research and a post.

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