Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta understands calls for Gabriel Martinelli to feature more regularly but insists the teenager’s development must be managed properly.
The 19-year-old forward has been the centre of talk from Gunners fans and pundits, with former defender Martin Keown last week calling for Martinelli to be given more game time.
Keown got his wish on Sunday as the Brazilian was handed only his fourth Premier League start of the season against Sheffield United, and he scored the second goal in Arsenal’s 3-0 victory.
Martinelli’s first goal of the campaign immediately began a clammer on social media for him to start against Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday – a match that could define the Gunners’ campaign.
But while Arteta was pleased with Martinelli’s contribution at Bramall Lane, he repeated his earlier calls for patience with the youngster.
“I’m asking you to be patient because we have a lot of players at 19 and 20 years old,” said the Arsenal boss.
“When you compare that with a lot of Premier League clubs at the top end it’s not common. Gabi’s having the right path, the right development, he’s got an incredible attitude and talent and has got all the future in front of him.
“What we have to do is to manage that, try to give him the right amount of minutes, the right games for him to develop to continue to get better.”
“I respect that people want to see more of him, and Gabi did really well, but we have to be patient. He is getting the right development.”
Calls for Martinelli to start at Bramall Lane increased following Arsenal’s disappointing 1-1 home draw with Slavia three days before – a result that leaves the Gunners needing to score at least once in the Czech Republic in the second leg if they are to remain in the Europa League.
However, Arteta insisted that result had no bearing on his decision to start Martinelli against the Blades.
“I’m not aware because I don’t want to read that because I don’t want anything affecting me,” said the Spaniard.
“What is affecting me is how I see him every day, how he is, all the staff and what our opinion is on how we want him to develop.
“I’m sure that there is always debate, when I play somebody, somebody else should play, but that’s going to happen most of the time when you don’t win.”
A 25th Premier League defeat of the season left Sheffield United rooted to the bottom of the table and on the brink of having their inevitable relegation confirmed – being 18 points from safety with just seven matches remaining.
Interim boss Paul Heckingbottom insists he and his players are not shying away from the harsh reality of the situation they find themselves in but he refused to join in the public chorus of criticism about the club’s embarrassing campaign.
“We do criticise each other in there, the dressing room. We know where things are going wrong and what people are saying,” said Heckingbottom.
“We are in a profession where, if you are a player or a manager, people are always going to have an opinion on you and what you are doing.
“There’s enough people talking and having a pop outside of the building, which we understand and accept. But in there, we also stick together.
“We are truthful and honest, but we stick together, including when we step outside of it.”