Arsenal could opt for surprise academy graduate to START against Porto – in the absence of Gabriel Martinelli

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has a tough decision to make, following the dynamics of his team being exposed at the weekend

Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal, looks on prior to the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on January 07, 2024 in London, England. Arsenal wear an all-white kit at home, for the first time in the club's history, in support of the 'No More Red' campaign against knife crime and youth violence. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal could make one of their most surprising selection decisions of the season tonight – in arguably their biggest game of 2024.

The Gunners take on Porto at the Emirates Stadium in the Champions League last-16 looking to end a hoodoo that has haunted them for over 14 years. Arsenal last made a quarter-final in the competition back in 2010, reaching seven straight knockout rounds without advancing to the last eight.

With Mikel Arteta’s side a goal down from the first leg, the Spaniard needs his side to race out of the traps with the same intensity that they’ve shown in recent weeks. But with Arsenal labouring to a 2-1 win over Brentford at the weekend following a mistake from goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, the Gunners may need to switch things up to overcome a stubborn Porto – especially without Gabriel Martinelli.

Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Emirates Stadium on December 02, 2023 in London, England

Gabriel Martinelli is a big miss for Arsenal (Image credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Martinelli limped off against Sheffield United and has not played since, with Arteta confirming after full-time at Bramall Lane that the Brazilian had suffered no more than a cut – though The Athletic has since claimed that Martinelli won’t feature against Porto.

That leaves Arteta in an interesting position. Leandro Trossard is the obvious replacement in terms of form, with the Belgian stepping up in 2024 to chip in with goals and assists – but he can’t replicate everything that Martinelli offers.

Arsenal’s No.11 is a width-holder as much as everything else, while his contribution in dragging defences back is obvious. Martinelli has the most pace of any Arsenal attacker, using his ability in behind a defence to stretch teams and help pin them back. Without him, Arsenal are often left with all their attackers facing a stubborn block.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Leandro Trossard of Arsenal scores his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on January 20, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Trossard may not be the best pick against Porto (Image credit: Getty Images)

There are other options for the left-wing spot – and one of them is an intriguing choice. With Martinelli on the bench against Liverpool in the FA Cup third-round in January, Arteta opted for Reiss Nelson.

Nelson has not started in the Premier League for Arsenal since signing a new contract at the end of last season but has appeared from the bench often this season to offer directness on both wings. Could he be trusted in such a huge clash? Well, he was in the Cup.

The Hale End academy graduate offers a similar pace in behind to Martinelli and can hug the touchline – allowing more space for the likes of Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz to float – while Nelson’s ability to cut in and shoot on his right foot mirrors Martinelli’s profile nicely, too.

Arsenal star Reiss Nelson celebrates at full time of the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and AFC Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on March 4, 2023 in London, United Kingdom.

Arsenal star Reiss Nelson could have a big part to play this season (Image credit: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

One other option on the left remains Gabriel Jesus who has been on fire in the Champions League so far this season. The Brazilian is more often used as a focal point up front but can play on either wing – though he hasn’t started for the Gunners since coming back from injury.

With Arsenal needing two clear goals to advance in Europe tonight, there may be twists and turns for the Gunners in terms of personnel and who Arteta trusts to lead the line in such a huge tie…

 

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