This article is part of Football FanCast’s Off the Bench series, which places in-game managerial decisions and squad selections under FFC’s microscope.
After going 2-0 down against Standard Liege in the Europa League on Thursday night, Arsenal pulled off an impressive comeback to ensure the spoils were shared by the end of the match.
Having earned their first victory under the stewardship of Freddie Ljungberg against West Ham on Monday, the Gunners knew a victory against Liege would seal top spot in their Europa League group. But after fielding a heavily-rotated side, including a number of youngsters and a change to a back-five, the north Londoners struggled for any fluency, and fell two goals down thanks to deflected strikes.
And with Eintracht Frankfurt winning in the other game in the group, Arsenal were staring down the very real prospect of finishing second and potentially facing one of the Champions League drop-outs in the next round. But Gabriel Martinelli’s introduction mid-way through the second-half inspired a comeback, and with Vitoria turning things around against the German side, it all ended well for the Gunners.
In a truly woeful first-half performance that lacked any cohesion or direction – a situation not helped by a broken up pitch – the Gunners toiled for just four shots on goal and only had 52% possession as per Sofascore. But when Martinelli arrived in place of Sokratis, with the score at 2-0 to Liege, things began to turn around. Ljungberg’s substitution allowed for Arsenal to return to a traditional back-four, and it resulted in them taking control of the game.
Trivia addicts will love this quiz: How much did Arsenal pay for each of these players?
The second-half saw them register 63% of the ball, and Martinelli was key in both his offensive and defensive work down the left-hand side. The Brazilian helped play the one-two with Bukayo Saka for the latter to net the all-important equaliser, whilst he also provided one key pass. And off-the-ball, the starlet made two tackles and won two ground duels, as he helped press the Belgian side into mistakes.
Even at just 18 years of age, the former Ituano man is beginning to prove that he is a vital part of this team. And his place against Manchester City on Sunday surely looks assured now.