Arsenal’s Goalkeeper dilemma
Emi Martinez fell to his knees as the final whistle blew at Wembley. Arsenal had won the FA Cup and the Argentine had finally realised the dreams he had when he joined the club in 2010. Later he would pose with the trophy, cradling it like a new-born. Although Martinez’s presence in the starting XI was aided by the injury to usual starter Bernd Leno against Brighton, the starting spot felt more than earned. Since the day Leno was injured, Arsenal have won eight out of their eleven games and conceded only nine goals. Martinez has made frequent game-winning saves and has been the epitome of confidence in between the sticks. However, although the terrific form of Arsenal’s number two has come as a pleasant surprise for most, it has also created a conundrum for Arteta and his staff.
Before Leno’s injury, many Arsenal fans would tell you he is the clubs most important player. The German stopper was valued massively by the fanbase and the massive outcry on social media of sadness (mixed with anger towards Neil Maupay) during the Brighton game exhibited that. Despite Arsenal’s poor season, the goalkeeper was a clear standout along with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
He made 113 saves (7th in the Premier League despite having nearly 1000 fewer minutes recorded than his counterparts) and had a 77.6% save percentage (3rd overall in the Premier League). Leno racked up impressive stats for the season and as he lay on the Amex pitch clutching his knee, many thought Arsenal’s season may well be over as well as his.
Although his shot-stopping is undoubtedly world-class, Leno has his weaknesses, the same as every player. With the ball at his feet, Leno is far from incapable. However, he has been known to panic and this is something that has cost Arsenal. Most infamously, Leno conceded a very avoidable corner with the scores level against Olympiakos in the last minutes of Arsenal’s Europa League last 16 tie. Olympiakos proceeded to score from the following corner, knocking Arsenal out. Arteta’s Arsenal frequently play out from the back and this is something required of the goalkeeper. However, this is of course something that can be improved and coached.
The other area of Leno’s game that is slightly weaker, is when commanding his box. He ranked 13th in the league for high claims this season with 17. To put this into perspective, Emi Martinez recorded eight in just nine appearances. However, this is also an area of Leno’s game that is constantly improving. He recorded just 10 high claims last season, in two more appearances.
In the relatively small section of the season Martinez has started, he has made a massive impression. There was always a recognition that the Argentine was a good keeper, but no one foresaw the level Martinez would produce. An incredible game-winning save against Liverpool which saw him scramble across his line to tip a deflected shot wide in the final minutes of Arsenal’s win against Liverpool quickly went viral on social media, leading many to ask the question, ‘have we been sitting on a potentially world-class goalkeeper?’
It’s not completely reliable to judge Martinez’s shot-stopping ability just yet due to the small sample size but from what we’ve seen, it’s at a very high level. His save percentage is the best in the league, at an incredible 81% (small sample size). Martinez has clocked 34 saves in the league this season, 3.78 per match. The goals Martinez has conceded have been good quality and not goals one would describe as ‘saveable’ for the keeper. However, consistency will have to be kept by Martinez if he is to prove his form as true ability.
When the ball is at the feet of the keeper, Martinez is very impressive. Utterly composed and confident, Martinez is at the perfect level for Arteta’s ideas when playing out from the back. In the build-up to Arsenal’s opener against Man City in the FA Cup semi-final, Martinez was the picture of elegance as he drew the City players towards him before finding the spare man.
Martinez is also a very commanding presence in the penalty box. The keeper is 6’3 and surprisingly sturdy. This means he is able to approach crosses and use his body to make sure he gets on the ball. In the nine league appearances Martinez made, he recorded eight high claims – only Nick Pope has recorded them at a higher rate this season.
In Bernd Leno and Emi Martinez, Arsenal have two very good goalkeepers. In Leno, they have a proven world-class shot-stopper and a keeper who can be coached to play the Mikel Arteta way. In Martinez, they have an exciting keeper who is perhaps more ready to play in the Head Coach’s system but is much less proven.
Emi Martinez has two years remaining on his current contract, but the potential of a battle for the number one spot may not convince him to stay at the club. If this is the case, Arteta and his staff will have a key decision to make this summer. This is a situation that is likely to proceed throughout the transfer window and one that will require a solution. Who will be Arsenal’s number one next season? We will soon find out.