Arsenal: Emiliano Martínez’s Patience Will Wear Thin

The goalkeeper position is one that is currently rather settled at Arsenal. However, that could change if Emiliano Martínez does not get the opportunities that he wants.

Arsenal fans likely remember Emiliano Martínez from the pulsating 7-5 Capital One Cup win over Reading in October 2012. The native of Mar Del Plata, Argentina, was only 18 years old at the time. It seemed unlikely on that night that he would develop into a goalkeeper worthy of Arsenal and the Argentina national team, but that is exactly what he has become.

Martínez looked nervous and error-prone during the aforementioned affair, but a coincidental loan move to the Berkshire-based club has completely reinvigorated his reputation and he is now knocking on the door of the Arsenal first team. Nonetheless, if the Argentine is not trusted with the opportunities which he desires, Arsenal’s goalkeeping group could look very different next season.

In a recent feature for the official Arsenal website, a confident – borderline arrogant – Martínez reaffirmed his aspiration to become Arsenal’s No. 1:

I’m the No. 2 for now, but it won’t stay that way. My aim is to be No. 1 and I’ll keep working until I get there, because I’m not comfortable with just being a No. 2. When I was playing for Reading, I got this feeling of being the No. 1 – and I want that at Arsenal.

I’ve been here for so many years and the only reason I’ve stayed here is because I believe I can be the No. 1 here. I’ve got all the qualities you need.

Arsène Wenger, when he was here, always used to say to me, ‘Emi, you’re the future of this club’. I believe that I can be a No. 1. Don’t get me wrong, I accept my role as a No. 2 at the moment, but my target is to get that No. 1 jersey.

The 27-year-old had plenty of offers to leave the Emirates this summer, but declared his willingness to stay on one condition:

Over the summer, I spoke to Unai and our goalkeeping coach, Javi Garcia, after my spell with Reading. I told them I would stay but said that would only be the case if I had the chance to become the No 1 here, if I had the opportunities to play and get that shirt.

That’s why I said to them, ‘If you’re going to give me the opportunity to become No. 1, I will stay. Otherwise, I have 13 or 14 clubs that want me to sign for them’. It was a big decision for me and my family, and we chose what was best for my career. Arsenal is the best club for me.

You only get one career, so I have to do what’s best, and I’m lucky because my wife and my kid will follow me everywhere I go. There were offers but when I signed for Arsenal, it was to one day become No. 1 for this club. It’s my dream club and after my season on loan at Reading, I feel like I showed everyone how good I am.

I said to my family, ‘If Arsenal don’t trust me, then it’s time to move on’ but Arsenal have shown lots of faith in me and I trust the club, I trust the manager and I believe we’re going to have a great, great season.

In Martínez and Bernd Leno, Arsenal have two very capable goalkeepers. Leno has started every Premier League game so far this season, but his challenger made his first start of the campaign in Arsenal’s 3-0 Europa League win over Eintracht Frankfurt. While Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock stole the headlines, Martínez produced some heroics between the sticks. He made two excellent saves in the first half, one both before and after Willock fortuitously opened the scoring. He got down well to thwart a stinging shot from Filip Kostic in the 22nd minute, before showing cat-like reflexes and a strong hand to deny André Silva from close range just before half-time.

Eintracht’s attacking nature gave the Argentine plenty of opportunities to initiate counter-attacks with quick throws. He collected aerial balls positively and comfortably – something that cannot always be said about his German teammate – and was an asset all night long. He certainly gave Leno and Unai Emery something to think about.

Leno certainly has his blemishes and has made his share of mistakes since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen, but he has been dependable for the most part. Nonetheless, any severe or prolonged dip in form will mean that Martínez will be one step closer to the position that he craves. Arsenal’s longest-serving player is convinced that he can outclass his experienced German colleague.

He has more professional matches than me, but in qualities I am equal to or better than him.

Considering Martínez’s hunger for opportunities, it is unlikely that Matt Macey will be given any minutes to showcase his talent. According to Transfermarkt, Macey’s contract will expire at the end of the season and one would think that the 25-year-old will not be offered new terms. He struggled during a loan spell with Plymouth Argyle last season and Arsenal also have Arthur Okonkwo, 18, waiting in the wings. Okonkwo, who stands at a towering 6ft 4in, is highly-rated by those within the club and signed his first professional contract last September.

Arsenal have made a concerted effort to bleed more academy prospects into the first team in recent months. If Macey is released and Martínez decides to seek pastures new, it is not inconceivable that Okonkwo could be Leno’s deputy next season.

Dejan Iliev is another understudy candidate. The 24-year-old Macedonian joined ŠKF Sereď of the Slovak Super Liga on a season-long loan during the summer. While Iliev would represent another feel-good story – he sustained a serious knee injury in 2015 which kept him sidelined for two years – making him the No. 2 for 2020/21 would be an incredible demonstration of faith by the club.

Emil Audero, 22, of U.C. Sampdoria was linked with the club in January and Markus Schubert was a transfer target after his contract with 2. Bundesliga side Dynamo Dresden expired at the end of last season, but the 21-year-old ultimately decided to join FC Schalke 04. Whether Arsenal look elsewhere to reinforce the goalkeeper position remains to be seen, but for better or worse, they seem intent on promoting from within.

Emiliano Martínez has spent time out on loan at six clubs since joining Arsenal in 2011. His story is one of patience and self-belief. Nevertheless, you get the impression that it is now or never for the Argentine and that he will likely seek a new challenge next summer if he does not get the opportunities he feels that he deserves. With that in mind, Arsenal’s goalkeeping group could look very different next season.