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Relentless Gabriel Martinelli leaves Mikel Arteta with huge decision for biggest game of Arsenal’s season

Simon Collings
·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After Thursday’s disappointing draw with Slavia Prague, Mikel Arteta needed a response from his Arsenal side at Sheffield United - and he got it.

There were a number of eye-catching performances, not least Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman missed two great chances on Thursday, but he was in red-hot form at Bramall Lane.

Lacazette struck twice in a 3-0 win but it was the other scorer, Gabriel Martinelli, who really made an impression.

The clamour for Martinelli to start has been rumbling on for months and reached fever pitch ahead of this clash with Sheffield United.

Arsenal needed a spark after Thursday’s frustrating 1-1 draw with Slavia Prague, in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final, and Martinelli provided it.

He buzzed around the Sheffield United defence like a wasp at a picnic - although given it was snowing before kick-off here, no one should be having one right now.

Martinelli was just relentless, hunting down the opposition and his willing running was infectious. It certainly seemed to rub off on Lacazette, who had one of his best games for a fair few weeks.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Martinelli’s fine display was capped off with a goal as he tapped home Nicolas Pepe’s saved effort. It was an easy finish, but no more than he deserved.

Now Arteta has to decide whether Martinelli starts on Thursday but, after this showing, he’d be hard pushed to drop him.

Calming influence of Mari helps end search for clean sheet

Before this trip to Sheffield United, Arsenal had not kept a clean sheet in all competitions since January. It is an alarming statistic and one that would have naturally worried Arteta.

Thankfully for the Spaniard, Arsenal ended their search for one by keeping Sheffield United at bay. It was a solid performance at the back, one without many nervy moments, and at the heart of it was Pablo Mari.

The Spaniard was a calming influence at the back, tidying up loose balls and keeping things simple when in possession. Mari came into the side for Gabriel and, while Mari may not possess the same natural ability as the Brazilian, there is something to be said for the atmosphere he helps create.

Mari just exudes composure and, for an Arsenal said who often lack that, it’s a valuable string to his bow. A start in Slavia Prague on Thursday should not be ruled out.

Saka injury scare takes gloss off win

Getty Images
Getty Images

As if having Kieran Tierney out injured wasn’t bad enough, Arsenal are now sweating over Bukayo Saka for Thursday’s crucial trip to Prague.

The teenager played as a No10 for this win at Bramall Lane, adding yet another role to his ever-growing arsenal of positions.

Saka was bright and lively, linking up well with Pepe. He was at the heart of a lot of Arsenal’s best attacking play - but the sight of him limping off will not have pleased Arteta.

The England international appeared to injure his thigh, icing it after he came off the pitch around the 70-minute mark.

Arsenal have a huge task in Prague on Thursday, going into the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final trailing on away goals after drawing 1-1. Arteta will have everything crossed in the hope Saka can be fit.

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