Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli described it as a ‘great feeling’ to make his return to action for the Gunners’ Under-21 side in the Papa John’s Trophy defeat AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday night, although it was an otherwise difficult evening for the club.
Martinelli saw a promising debut season in north London cut short by a knee injury during ‘Project Restart’ in June and it had been nearly six months of recovery and rehab before he played 45 minutes of this week's cup tie, which Wimbledon won 3-0.
“It was a great feeling to get minutes tonight - huge thanks to the medical and physio teams at Arsenal for their fantastic work and to the fans for the amazing support during my long recovery,” the 19-year-old Brazilian posted on Twitter afterwards.
Martinelli started the game and made it until half-time, by which time he looked visibly, and understandably, exhausted after so long out of action. He looked sharp at times early on and was replaced by academy prospect Kido Taylor-Hart at the interval so as not to overdo it.
Unfortunately for Arsenal’s youngsters, that the was the end of a promising night. Wimbledon went ahead in the 68th minute, before doubling their lead only moments later.
Tim Akinola was then sent off for Arsenal when he got a second yellow card for petulantly kicking the ball away. The Gunners were soon reduced to nine players when William Saliba, whose first year in England is proving tough, got a straight red card for a reckless challenge.
Wimbledon made it 3-0 in stoppage time, knocking Arsenal out of the competition, but seeing Martinelli back on the pitch for the first time since June is a positive to cling to.
For now, it is unclear when the youngster will be ready to make his first-team return.