Selling Emiliano Martinez in the summer was hardly Arsenal’s daftest transfer decision in recent years. At the time, making £20million on their back-up goalkeeper appeared to make perfect sense. But the Aston Villa no.1 continues to reframe that move as a costly mistake on the Gunners’ part.
Martinez has established himself as the Premier League’s most impressive stopper this term. He continued his quest for the no.1 spot in the Team of the Season, and an unlikely claim for the Golden Glove, with another pivotal performance to earn another clean sheet as Villa toiled to a goalless draw with Wolves.
Both sides could have won this tight West Midlands derby, with Villa dominating the first half while hitting the woodwork twice through Oli Watkins and Ezri Konsa. Wolves, as they do, improved after the break and they should have taken the points when Conor Coady hit the post with a point-blank header before Romain Saiss blazed the rebound over the bar from directly underneath it.
Coady had another opportunity to bag his second goal of the week with less than a quarter of an hour to go. But the Wolves skipper became the latest Premier League star to have his weekend spoiled by Martinez.
Emiliano Martínez gets another clean sheet but looks disappointed with the draw pic.twitter.com/9zQdq0naRm
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) March 6, 2021
After spinning on the edge of the six-yard box, in the centre of the goal, Coady took aim for the bottom corner. His first touch being too tight, the finish was not as clean as Coady might have wished but it would still have been enough to pass beyond most keepers.
Not Martinez. The Argentine readjusted his feet to spread his huge frame, diverting the ball off its course into the net with his huge left foot.
Coady could barely believe it while Konsa and Tyrone Mings were similarly stunned. The centre-backs made sure to thank Martinez for once again bailing out the Villans.
Their defensive improvement has been one of the most impressive feats of this barmy Premier League season. Only Manchester City have kept more clean sheets than Villa this term, which is astonishing when you consider how porous they were last term, when they stayed up by the skin of their teeth.
Matty Cash has been very impressive, but Martinez is the most tangible difference, playing behind the same centre-backs who managed only half the clean sheets last season that they have already amassed this term.
Despite keeping more clean sheets than anyone other than the runaway leaders, Villa have allowed 117 shots on their goal – only six clubs have given up more. But Martinez has forged his reputation with a Premier League high saves percentage of 78.6 per cent.
More impressively, Martinez also leads the league for defying expected goals. Villa have conceded 27 goals whereas xG models suggest they should have let in 34.
Bernd Leno is also performing positively in that metric and the keeper Arsenal put their faith in over Martinez is hardly having a bad season. But his role in Burnley’s equaliser at Turf Moor today, coupled with Martinez preserving more points for Villa, only heightens the scrutiny around Mikel Arteta’s big decision.
Leno is an established Germany international and in the summer, when Martinez was looking for ‘guarantees’ over playing time, Manuel Neuer’s stand-in was certainly the safer bet, despite Martinez’s fine form while the Gunners’ goalie was injured at the end of last season.
But, against the advice of his family, Martinez gambled on seeking a future away from the club where he spent a decade waiting for his chance. The move is paying off for the 28-year-old. But Villa are reaping the greatest returns of all.