Brazil face fight to hold on to Arsenal ace


Brazil team co-ordinator Juninho Paulista says he has held talks with Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli amid fears he could be snapped up by Italy.

Martinelli joined Arsenal from Brazilian side Ituano in the summer, signing in a £6million deal that went under the radar, and he has enjoyed a breakthrough season.

The 18-year-old was initially restricted to appearances in the League Cup and Europa League but fans quickly called for him to feature in the Premier League.

He scored on his first competitive start in a 5-0 victory over Nottingham Forest in the League Cup and has continued to impress.

Mikel Arteta has shown faith in the youngster since replacing Unai Emery in the hot seat in December and Martinelli deputised during Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s recent absence.

The hitman boasts 10 goals across all competitions and looks to be a fantastic addition to an already potent attack at the Emirates.

His future at the Emirates certainly looks secure but Brazil, his country of birth, are concerned he could switch his international allegiance.

The Guarulhos-born man has represented Brazil at under-23 level on two occasions and he trained with Tite’s senior side ahead of the 2019 Copa America.

But he is yet to earn a cap with the five-time World Cup winners and it’s understood Italy are hoping to get him on board.

Martinelli’s father is of Italian descent and he holds dual Brazilian-Italian citizenship.

Both nations are in action next month with Brazil set to face Boliva and Peru in World Cup Qualification, while Italy take on England and Germany in friendlies.

The teenager will be free to pick either nation until he makes a competitive senior appearance and that could come with Brazil in March.

In the meantime, Juninho admits he has been in contact with Martinelli to ensure the Arsenal ace knows of Brazil’s intention.

Juninho told Brazilian publication O Globo: “He’s a very focused boy. So he is achieving things in a short time.

“He exceeded all expectations. Selection is a consequence. He has already been called up for the Olympics, but Arsenal did not release. He’s on our radar. You have to be patient. Today, he is a [senior] selection player for what he presents.”