The aftermath of the FA Cup was an emotional time for Emiliano Martinez. Having waited patiently for ten years to become Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper, Martinez was overcome with emotion as he sat on the Wembley sideline, FA Cup winners’ medal around his neck, video calling his family in Argentina.
Following six different loans over seven years, the Argentine excelled in goal towards the end of last season after being called up to replace the injured Bernd Leno. His assured performances have put him firmly in contention to be the Gunners’ number one for the 2020/21 campaign, even if Martinez has since revealed interest from “ten teams in Europe”.
Rewind to 20 June and that horrific loss away to Brighton. It was an ugly day that went badly wrong for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal. One that could be summed up by the ghastly injury suffered by Bernd Leno as he clashed awkwardly with Neal Maupay. The initial news did not look good, with Leno initially feared to be out for six months with a damaged ACL. The one player Arteta needed to back up a shaky defence was lost for the season.
Step forward, Emiliano Martinez. Many fans had forgotten his name, but he was determined to make sure they remembered it. Having outlasted Wojiech Szczesny, Petr Cech and David Ospina, to name a few, the 27-year-old was focused on making the number one spot his own.
What followed was completely unexpected. Martinez didn’t just do what was required of him as a stand-in replacement, he excelled to such a degree that he was arguably the best goalkeeper in the post-lockdown Premier League. Stunning saves against Southampton, Norwich City and his last-minute heroics to secure a win at home to Liverpool have underlined have cemented his status as Arsenal’s second quality keeping option.
After waiting a decade to prove himself in north London, Martinez has done just that in a matter of months. As a result, it is completely understandable that he may wish to capitalise on the best form of his career with a big-money move elsewhere.
However, if Arteta and his coaching staff are shrewd in their handling of Martinez’s demands for first-team football, there is no reason why he and Leno can’t both be at the club.
Leno should remain the clear starter because, despite his injury, he has been one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the league throughout his first two seasons in England. Having cemented the number one spot, it would be harsh on Leno to take it away from him due to an injury that was out of his control.
Even with Leno as number one, Martinez will get plenty of game time too. As deputy, the Argentine will feature in all of Arsenal’s cup matches over three competitions: the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Europa League. If Martinez wants to play a higher percentage of games that include Premier League fixtures, Arteta could select him for matches of lesser importance against sides in the bottom half of the table. This approach would have the added benefit of protecting Leno from another injury amidst what is going to a packed schedule for 2020/21, whilst of course keeping Martinez satisfied.
Martinez may even be given the starting shirt for the new campaign, with the view of easing Bernd Leno back into action gradually. Although Leno trained at the end of last season, it is not yet clear as to whether he will immediately be match-fit and ready to go.
Any public offers for Martinez from those “ten teams” are yet to be received by Arsenal, so it is entirely feasible that he will stay at the club. If this is the case, then Arteta must approach a delicate situation with innovative methods to ensure that he can keep Leno and Martinez, both worthy of the number one spot, content over the forthcoming campaign.
Zac CampbellFollow @zprcampbell