Despite developing as a centre-forward, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not trusted there. Here is why his successor at Arsenal, Gabriel Martinelli, can succeed where he failed.
The original Ronaldo transformed how people define a great centre-forward. As Jonathan Liew writes in The Independent, he combined two elements of the great strikers of the prior generation and rolled them into one player.
“Ronaldo’s great leap forward was to combine the two – the positional flexibility and technical excellence to receive the ball anywhere on the pitch and move it towards goal, and the ruthless instinct to see openings and finish chances – in a single terrifying package”
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This is where prolific Arsenal goalscorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has failed. He is a brilliant goalscorer, a winger who turned into a penalty-box striker who knows how to score outrageous numbers of goals year on year on year. But he was never able to ally that with the all-around impact that a modern centre-forward must provide. Ronaldo could do both; Aubameyang was the master of only one.
Now, it is a little harsh to say that because Aubameyang is not as complete as the greatest centre-forward in history he has failed. He has still reached a tremendously high level and is one of the best centre-forwards of the past decade. And yet, as Arsenal look to rebuild the squad, searching for that all-encompassing attacker who can create, score, threaten, dribble, hold-up play, impact the match in a variety of ways, Aubameyang is not the solution. But could his potential successor?
Gabriel Martinelli has exploded onto the scene this season. The Brazilian is the second-highest scorer in the squad behind Aubameyang, has flourished in Aubameyang’s absence at different periods of the year, including scoring two goals during Aubameyang’s suspension earlier this year, and looks set to bloom as one of the great players in world football.
And according to Brazilian legend Ronaldinho, who played for many years with the great Ronaldo, Martinelli shares many of the great qualities of il Fenomeno:
“We as Brazilians are very excited about him and his future. It is one thing to have the talent – but another at the age of 18 to have the confidence. He reminds me of Ronaldo his first season in Europe he scored 30 goals and people were thinking: ‘who is this 18-year-old Brazilian kid?’ He wanted the ball, he would run at players, there was no fear no matter what players or team he was playing against – and I see that similar attitude in Martinelli. He just wants to be on the ball and score goals. Ronaldo went on to be the best player in the world – and that can also be the aim of Martinelli.”
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Claiming that Martinelli can turn into the ‘best player in the world’ is a little outlandish, it should be admitted, but Ronaldinho highlights the crucial difference in skill set between Martinelli, Ronaldo and players like Aubameyang: the ability to both score goals and cause problems in other ways, especially via their dribbling skill.
Ronaldo would drive with a surge of explosive speed and purpose. He was a dagger, right through the heart of the opposing defence. He slalomed from side-to-side while simultaneously accelerating forwards. It is a dribbling style very similar to Martinelli’s, and it is a skill that Aubameyang has never been able to replicate. He is a capable dribbler, of course, and he has an adequate first touch and close control, but it is his movement off the ball that makes him so dangerous.
So, as Ronaldo crafted and now Martinelli follows in the grooves, a truly great modern-day centre-forward must do more than just score goals. Aubameyang could never quite master that, but Martinelli can.