A lot can happen in two years ….
In June 2020, many Gooners were worried when Bernd Leno was injured at Brighton, many questioning if our second-choice keeper had the mentality to handle the pressure of playing for Arsenal at a time we needed to win the FA Cup just to qualify for Europe?
That understudy was named Emiliano Martinez, a player who at that point had been an employee of the Gunners for a decade, being loaned out on 6 occasions.
One of his few first team appearances for his parent club was a League Cup tie at Reading where he conceded three in the opening half hour, the second a shot he horribly palmed into his own net.
If he didn’t have the strength of character for the Carabao Cup, how would he now handle an extended run of Premier League football?
The rest as they say is history.
Two years later, the Argentine is preparing for the World Cup Final, a tournament that Leno didn’t even get called up for.
Ex-players tend to say once a ‘Gooner always a Gooner ‘.
Therefore, if I’m saying well done to Giroud this week, it’s only right I highlight the rise of Martinez.
Many foreigners will say they love the badge, yet when the 30-year-old says it, I tend to believe him.
He moved to North London as a teenager and essentially grew up at Arsenal.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of our last FA Cup victory was Martinez’s tears at the final whistle, showing how much the moment meant to him.
In that Final and the Semi Final before it, he had produced (at that point) the two best performances of his career. One against Man City, the other Chelsea
What became obvious was he had a presence about him, he brought calm to the defence in front of him, something Leno never did.
Leno was one of those players some Gooners wanted to believe was better than he was, and would never admit otherwise out of feeling that a supporter can’t say anything negative about the club they love.
The German made too many errors to play at our level, hence why he’s moved to Fulham.
Very soon, fans stopped checking when he would be fit because he wasn’t being missed.
That summer though, it left our manager with a conundrum.
The consensus is Martinez wanted to sign the new contract offered to him, he just wanted assurances that he was now our number 1.
You can understand why having been on the bench (sometimes not in the squad) for over 10 years, now having got the baton and ran with it, Martinez didn’t want to go back to being 2nd choice.
Arteta always maintained he wanted competition between his two keepers to bring out the best in each other. Simply put though, the Spaniard didn’t believe in giving out guarantees.
In hindsight both parties must have regrets.
Could Martinez have believed in himself more where he didn’t need that kind of assurance?
His ex-boss must also see the irony that 12 months later he would spend close to the same amount we got from Aston Villa to bring in Ramsdale?
Ramsdale’s been brilliant for us, but Martinez must wonder ‘what if?’
Leno made so many mistakes in Arteta’s first full campaign, Martinez easily would been picked ahead of him.
As Leno struggled and Arsenal finished in their worst position in quarter of a century, our ex-goalie was sensational at Villa Park.
He deserves credit for walking away from his comfort zone and proving he belongs on this stage
He’s made a reputation for being a spot kick expert, famously making 3 saves in the semi-final of the 2021 Copa America.
Some don’t like the antics he uses to put off the taker or his gestures to the crowd when they fail to convert.
It might be one of the reasons he believes neutrals don’t like Argentina and will be routing for France this weekend?
It’s not true ….
Martinez is the perfect example of what happens when you never stop believing in yourself.
He’s sat on benches in League One probably thinking he would never make the Arsenal first team.
He didn’t make excuses or blame anyone.
He kept his head down and battled.
Yet when he got his opportunity he took it, he was so good, people had to take notice.
We have won 14 FA Cups in our history.
He hugely contributed to one of them.
No one can take that away from him.
He told Arsenal he was better than the bench and went and proved it elsewhere.
I remember his emotional interview he gave after the 2020 FA Cup Final.
He told a story of leaving South America a boy.
He looked his parents in the eye and promised them that one day he would return with a medal to put in their hands.
That story became real life.
Next week he could return home with the ultimate medal …. he could be a World Champion!
Good luck Martinez
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