Martin Keown believes that Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli made an exceptional impact when he entered the action during Thursday’s Europa League exit, but was critical of manager Mikel Arteta for throwing him on so late.
The Gunners were dumped out of the Europa League in the Round of 32 stage, as Greek opponents Olympiacos progressed via the away goal rule after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.
The North London club had previously recorded a 1-0 away win in Greece last week to put themselves in the ascendancy of the two-legged tie.
But they were beaten 2-1 after extra-time on Thursday to see them crash out and their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League took another dent.
Pape Abou Cisse scored a second-half header to send the contest to extra-time and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s spectacular late volley in the 113th minute appeared to have sealed progression for Arsenal.
But Youssef El-Arabi poked in a goal in the 119th minute to make it 2-1 on the night and ultimately it sent Olympiacos through to the last-16.
Keown did question the use of Martinelli as a substitute from Arteta and felt it was a no-brainer to bring him on earlier than he did.
The 18-year-old only came on for the second-half of extra-time and his pace did cause a threat to the opposition.
“Martinelli came on and did exceptionally well. Why wasn’t he on earlier in the match? They left it too late almost,” Keown told BT Sport 3 (10:45pm, 27 February).
“It was obvious Martinelli had to come on, we were that close to Arteta I was tempted to go over and say put Martinelli on.”
Arsenal didn’t possess the same kind of hunger against Olympiacos that they have had for much of Arteta’s reign so far and it looked like a number of individuals were a bit fatigued.
Martinelli had made just one appearance as a substitute in the club’s last three games across all competitions and was one of the fresher options in the squad that many wanted to see start Thursday night.
The Brazilian attacker did inject an extra spark during the second-half of extra-time and he’s a special talent with 10 goals across all competitions this season.
Arsenal’s European exit will be classed a disaster unless they can continue their renaissance in the league and somehow claw their way into the Champions League spots in the table by the end of the campaign.
Arteta went with a full strength team to try get a job done against Olympiacos and unfortunately many didn’t hit the required standard so turning to his bench sooner may have helped, but it’s easy to say with hindsight.