Emi Martinez offers Arsenal hope in title race they would already have won with him over David Raya

Will Ford
Martinez Aston Villa
Emi Martinez dropped a clanger for Aston Villa against Liverpool.

Emi Martinez had a rare off night to hand Arsenal a glimmer of hope in a title race they would probably already have sewn up had he not been sold to Villa four years ago…

Emi Martinez mugged Gary Neville right off less than two minutes into the game. “The way in which he gives confidence to that team is unbelievable,” Neville said ahead of kick-off, revealing Martinez would be in his Premier League team of the year before the “massive character” dropped arguably the biggest clanger of any top flight goalkeeper this season, though Burnley’s Arijanet Muric would give him a run for his money.

Liverpool got in down Aston Villa’s left and Harvey Elliott’s cross looped into Martinez’s midriff via a deflection, and then off his midriff, out of his grasp and over the goal-line.

It was a shocker that sparked ‘once a Gooner, always a Gooner’ posts from Arsenal fans watching this game with interest as anything but a Villa win would keep Spurs in the hunt for Champions League football ahead of the visit of Manchester City on Tuesday.

If anything riles Arsenal fans as much claiming they made a mistake in letting Unai Emery leave the club it’s that they would probably have the Premier League title in the bag by now if they still had Martinez in goal instead of one of the division’s worst shot-stoppers.

To avoid severe teeth-gnashing and for our own sanity we feel obliged to point out that David Raya is both good at catching crosses and with the ball at his feet, but we would question whether he is the equivalent of nine goals better than Martinez in those two superior facets, which is (or was before this less impressive evening for the Argentinian) the difference in their ability to save shots.

READ MORE: Three David Raya mistakes show Arsenal need a new goalkeeper

Having scored one, Martinez turned provider for Liverpool’s second after Villa had equalised through Youri Tielemans. The goalkeeper left an awful lot of the goal for Joe Gomez to aim at, diving from very close to his near post to fingertip the left-back’s passed effort straight to Cody Gakpo, who couldn’t miss from two yards out. As an abashed Neville admitted in the Sky Sports studio at half-time, “he was probably at fault for that one too”.

Diego Carlos did somehow miss from two yards out at other end, preventing Ollie Watkins from becoming the first ever Villa player to score 20 Premier League goals in a season in the process as he first nudged Watkins out of the way before swiping at Leon Bailey’s cross directly in front of the striker with the goal gaping.

A 0.96 xG opportunity spurned in a half Villa had the better of, with Watkins doing brilliantly to set up Tielemans for his goal but missing one decent chance himself, while Moussa Diaby also should have done better when played through by John McGinn.

Liverpool’s defending was ropey at best, with the press functioning as poorly as it did for the majority of last season to allow Villa’s midfielders to feed Bailey, Diaby and Watkins in behind the back four at will.

Bailey and Watkins had a heated exchange after the latter had a goal ruled out as the former was caught offside when he could have left a through ball for Diaby to provide the assist. Seconds later Watkins could have been similarly berated after he attempted a tame backheel with Douglas Luiz far better placed to score. The frustration was palpable among the players, the fans and the manager.

Jarrel Quansah had given Liverpool a two-goal lead with an extraoardinary leap and fine header at the back post from an Elliott free-kick. And it looked as though Jurgen Klopp’s side would see the game out relatively comfortably before a rotten couple of minutes for Alexis Mac Allister.

The Liverpool midfielder miscontrolled a pass from Alisson to allow Villa substitute Jhon Duran to power a shot past the Reds goalkeeper, and then Diaby breezed past Mac Allister before the Frenchman’s wildly overhit pass hit Duran and looped into the net.

The late brace from the 20-year-old is significant because it means that any dropped points from Tottenham will see Villa safely into the Champions League. A point on the final day at Crystal Palace – a tall order given their stunning form – may also be enough even if Spurs claim six points, though the required eight-goal swing to claim fourth on goal difference isn’t beyond the realms of possibility given Ange Postecoglou’s side go to Bramall Lane on the final day.

Because Spurs now need to beat Manchester City on Tuesday it was the perfect result for Arsenal. And they therefore owe their former stooge Martinez – who would likely now be preparing for the open-top bus parade with his Gunners teammates had he not been sold four years ago – a debt of gratitude after he had a rare off game to offer Tottenham a glimmer of hope they will need against Manchester City in order to open the door in the title race.

READ MORE: Arsenal title win in spite of David Raya as ‘little nuisance’ also receives undue credit