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Gabriel Martinelli has credited Manchester United with helping him make a flying start to his Arsenal career.
The Brazilian joined the Gunners as a virtual unknown 18 months ago from Ituano after he was spotted by legendary scout Francis Cagigao, who also helped Arsenal recruit the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin and Robin van Persie.
Despite Arsenal’s struggles during the final months of Unai Emery’s reign, Martinelli made an instant impression under the Spaniard and scored 11 goals in all competitions before a knee injury ended his season in March.
Martinelli’s early Arsenal exploits did not, however, represent his first taste of English football. The teenager trained with Manchester United during the formative stages of his career, but was never in a position to sign professional terms.
United’s loss has certainly been Arsenal’s gain and Martinelli believes his experiences at Carrington helped steel him for the rigours of Premier League football.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘For three or four years, I used to practise at Manchester United,’ says Martinelli. I would come to England, usually in the middle of the year, for about 15 or 20 days.
‘It was a great experience, because I could find how European players behaved, how they defend, how they attack, how fast it is in their game.
‘I improved a lot and brought it all back with me to Brazil, always trying to secure my place in the team. My dream was to play in Europe and these practices in England helped me do it.’
Martinelli has been forced to bide his time to make an impact under Arteta but, having recovered from injury, was instrumental in the recent wins over Chelsea and Brighton which have belatedly kick-started Arsenal’s campaign.
Before his injury, the Brazil Under-21 international was set to feature against Newcastle as Arsenal begin the defence of the FA Cup last Saturday, and Martinelli credited his manager with keeping his spirits high during the most testing period of his career to date.
He added: ‘Mikel talked to me during my recovery. Always calling me to know how I was, even when I returned to Brazil for a time in August. When the club needed me, he talked to me again, asking if I was feeling ready to play.
‘I said, yes. I still feel a bit of pain in the knee, but the doctors say that it is fine. I’ve not been able to play 90 minutes yet, but it also needs time. My focus is on getting better and helping Arsenal.’