The Gunners are looking for solutions to their attacking problems after the exit of their former captain
With the January transfer window now finally shut, there is one area of the Arsenal squad that appears to be an obvious weakness going into the rest of the season.
Folarin Balogun has left on loan to join Middlesbrough for the remainder of the campaign, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw his contract terminated by mutual consent to help him facilitate a move to Barcelona.
This means that the Gunners are painfully short up front. To make matters worse, their two remaining centre forward options – Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah – have just two Premier League goals from open play between them so far.
However, as they prepare to return from their mid-season warm weather training break in Dubai, it appears that they may have found a solution.
After a tricky January that saw the squad decimated by Covid, injuries and Africa Cup of Nations absences, the decision was taken by Mikel Arteta to fly his side out to the Middle East during the wide gap they have until their next fixture against Wolves on February 10th.
“We’re going to go away, we’re going to have a training camp all together in a different environment, reunite, refocus and let’s have a good go because there’s still a lot to play for,” said the Spaniard when explaining the decision following his side’s 0-0 draw with Burnley.
Aside from just being a chance to get away from the stresses of the current season, the trip to Dubai also offered Arteta a chance to spend more time on the training ground with his squad.
This is something he benefited from massively during international breaks during the early part of the season, the first of which he described as his best 10-15 days in football.
While the Spaniard might have been hoping that Edu could have been able to secure him one of Dusan Vlahovic, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Alexander Isak, Jonathan David or Raul de Tomas – all of whom were looked at as potential striking recruitments in January – to come join him in the Middle East, he also would have enjoyed the time to work with some of the players already at his disposal.
Chief among these would have been Gabriel Martinelli who has found some of the best form of his career recently.
From barely making first team squads the Brazilian has rapidly ascended to being named the Premier League fans’ player of the month for December.
This has largely been down to the form he has been able to find on the left wing, but as the business end of the season approaches, there’s a chance that he could be used in a different position altogether.
The 20-year-old has played centre forward under Arteta before and it seems that this is where he has been working to improve in recent weeks.
At the NAS sport complex he was regularly seen alternating in the positions he played across the forward line, running on to passes from Martin Odegaard and making near post runs more typical of a No. 9 than an inside forward.
Martinelli has developed the physical presence to become a focal point in the attack in recent weeks, and possesses an aerial threat that could see him take more advantage of the excellent delivery Kieran Tierney regularly puts into the box.
The Brazilian also has the underrated technical ability to drop deeper and link the play in a manner that Arteta demands from any of his centre forwards.
Up until now what has seemingly stopped the Arsenal manager from trusting him more regularly in the middle is his discipline when it comes to making the right runs for the team, rather than being constantly drawn to the ball.
Recently though there have been signs that these fears are easing.
“[Martinelli’s] overall understanding of the game is getting much better,” Arteta said after the Gunners 2-0 win over West Ham in December. “He’s able to put some gears into his play.”
This careful and patient management means that we could well be in line to see an exciting front line consisting of Martinelli in front of Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka for the remainder of this season.
While putting the hopes of the Gunners’ top four charge in the hands of such in experienced youngsters is undoubtedly a risk, it’s one Arsenal could be about to take.