Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s transfer decisions came under scrutiny in 2020 after a controversial exit of a fans’ favourite, but the Spaniard may finally feel vindicated in his decision
Mikel Arteta has had a tough ride in his 22-month reign as Arsenal head coach. So when an opportunity to hit back at those who criticised him presented itself, it was understandable if he wanted to snatch it with both hands.
The Spaniard has often veered between being the man to take the club into a new era to edging closer to the sacked. After overseeing a convincing 3-1 win over Aston Villa to make it seven games unbeaten in all competitions, the former looks more realistic with every game.
The 39-year-old has overseen a dramatic transformation in terms of player turnover, with the likes of Mesut Ozil, David Luiz and Matteo Guendouzi all leaving the club during his reign. Likewise, forgotten players and young stars from Arsenal’s academy have enjoyed key roles.
Perhaps if there was one player who could easily slot into both of those areas, it would be Emiliano Martinez. As he prepared to line up against his former club yet again at the Emirates Stadium on Friday evening, his future once again became a hot topic of discussion.
Having been handed his chance in the team under Arteta including appearing in the 2019-20 FA Cup final win over Chelsea, Martinez decided to leave for pastures new it emerged Bernd Leno would be Arteta’s No.1 choice for the next season.
The 28-year-old had finally made his mark at the Emirates Stadium after an array of loan spells and spells on the bench waiting for his chance. Ultimately, he decided to have a fresh start by sealing a £20million move to Aston Villa in September 2020.
Given that he was second-choice and not keen on a new contract, at the time, a fee in that bracket appeared to good business. But not according to former Tottenham player-turned-pundit Jamie O’Hara, who criticised the decision to sign Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United.
“They got rid of Martinez, who’s a brilliant keeper for what, £20million or something?” The former Spurs midfielder told talkSPORT.
“Let him go, a snip, was one of the best keepers last season. And now they’re going to go and sign someone from a relegated team for £30million, what are they doing?
“Who is doing their business there? Seriously. What are they doing? They are a mess.”
Arteta recently addressed Martinez’s exit, insisting that his departure was in the “best interests” for all parties and there was no bad blood between them. But some would disagree Arsenal were better off.
Were Arsenal right to sell Emi Martinez and sign Aaron Ramsdale? Comment below.
Not only has Martinez thrived for Villa, but he has established himself as Argentina’s first choice, helping his country win the 2021 Copa America. He also kept 16 clean sheets last season, a figure only surpassed by Manchester City’s Ederson.
Naturally, his success has subsequently undermined Arteta’s decision, with Leno struggling and Ramsdale supposedly cursed after his successive relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United.
But it was fitting then that the only “mess” on the pitch on Friday night was Aston Villa — and Martinez played his part in their capitulation.
Quite how Thomas Partey was able to carve out the space to be able to jump and miscue his header towards goal was an indictment of Aston Villa’s defending. John McGinn lost his man, while Ollie Watkins looked nonplussed about what was going on around him.
But there was no question Martinez should have done a great deal better to keep the ball from bouncing past him, particularly as the ball came off Partey’s shoulder rather than head.
He dived too early and misjudged the flight of the ball, watching in agony as the ball bobbled into the net. The Argentinian hit himself on the side of his head with his glove in frustration and muttered under his breath.
Arsenal led and began to show the football that Arteta had promised for some time. At the other end, Ramsdale was a mere bystander as Arsenal dominated the first half action with 10 shots to Villa’s zero.
But when called upon to claim a high cross or make a decision to spring off his line to catch a cross mid-flight, it was the right choice.
The Englishman had kept four clean sheets in his first six games since his debut and in doing so, has risen to become Mikel Arteta’s first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Bernd Leno.
His opposite number was finding life much more difficult as the waves of attack from the Gunners continued at a rapid rate, although he redeemed himself when Villa, looking increasingly like a Sunday League side at the back, lost Bukayo Saka at the far post.
The England winger was forced to use his weaker foot to steer it goalwards and this time, the goalkeeper got down quickly to push it wide to keep the score at 1-0.
Martinez had his chance to silence the dissenting Arsenal fans when referee Craig Pawson awarded a penalty after VAR intervened for a foul on Alexandre Lacazette by Matt Targett.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stepped up, as he had done on so many occasions against Martinez in training before, knowing he had to beat the man who knew all about his habits. And sure enough, the goalkeeper prevailed in the battle of mind games.
He guessed perfectly, not just on the direction — down to the right — but also the height and power with which Aubameyang wanted to strike his spot-kick.
Unfortunately for Martinez, the Gabonese striker was alert and swept home the rebound. Martinez knew how high the stakes were and soon look overwhelmed by the situation, collapsing to his knees with his head in hands.
There was little Martinez could do after watching Emile Smith Rowe’s side-footed effort ricocheted off Ezri Konsa and in off the post behind him for Arsenal’s third.
A small collective of Arsenal fans could be heard chanting: “You’re just a s*** Aaron Ramsdale” towards their former player, followed by a much larger section who sang: “Aaron Ramsdale, he’s better than you.” It was clear where their loyalties were now.
Ramsdale seemed to gain confidence from that with a decent stop to deny Ollie Watkins and another commanding block on Emi Buendia. He could do absolutely nothing to stop Jacob Ramsey’s strike that crashed into the top corner late on to ruin his chances of a clean sheet.
But it was another decent display from the goalkeeper who was heavily criticised, only to now look like a shrewd addition.
Arteta has received a large portion of flack for his decision. A year later, Ramsdale is now thriving and Martinez leaves the Emirates with his tail between his legs — giving him all the vindication that, perhaps privately, he might enjoy.