It might seem strange to think now, but Neal Maupay may have been the most important man in Arsenal’s 2019/20 season.
Suspend your outrage for a second and think back to June the 20th and the awful 2-1 loss to Brighton. At the time Maupay went careered deliberately into Bernd Leno, causing him to fall awkwardly and dislocate his knee, the German was undoubtedly Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper. In fact, there was a decent argument that he was in the running with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to be our player of the season.
However, as one door closed for Leno, another opened for our relatively untested number two Emi Martinez. Since then, the Argentinian has seized the opportunity he’s been waiting nearly a decade for with a string of outstanding performances. He has proved he is simply too good to be a number two. Mikel Arteta now has yet another big decision to make.
Although fielding two ‘keepers in the latter days of the Unai Emery era might not have been the worst idea in the world, association football rules unfortunately dictate that we can only field one. Next season is only three weeks away so Arteta will have to decide who he wants as his number one very quickly.
So who is it to be? Bernd or Emi? Let’s try and take a look at one of the most difficult decisions in Arsenal’s recent history.
I’ll have probably annoyed football classicists like Roy Keane by considering this category first, but as a student of Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta wants his goalkeepers to be able to play out from the back. That means they’ve got to be good with their feet.
The stats show that Leno just about shades it on this front. The German has a pass accuracy of 73.1% compared to Martinez’ 67.9%. But when it comes to distribution, statistics can often be misleading.
Petr Cech – who regularly gave Arsenal fans heart attacks trying to adapt to Unai Emery’s new style of play at the beginning of last season – had a pass success rate of around 70%. Is he better with the ball than Emi Martinez? Almost definitely not.
The Argentine is more ready to try riskier passes over the top to utilise the pace of Arsenal’s frontline. He also passes the sight test when it comes to looking more comfortable on the ball than Leno. It’s hard to imagine the German knocking it around so nonchalantly as Emi did in the build up to our opening goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Man City.
Passing out from the back is all well and good, but when it comes down to it a goalkeeper’s primary job is to keep the ball out of the net. Just ask Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Leno is outstanding at this. At one stage this season he had made more saves than any other ‘keeper in the Premier League. Week after week he would produce incredible performances as Unai Emery’s tactics allowed the opposition seemingly unlimited shots at the Arsenal goal. His showing in last September’s North London Derby stands out in particular.
But Martinez has proved himself equally adept at making big save too. His 96th minute Superman impersonation against Liverpool is a genuine contender for save of the season, and his final day stop from Danny Welbeck isn’t far behind.
In fact, it’s somewhat surprising to note that the Argentine has the better save percentage of the two this season with 74.7%. Realistically though you’re splitting hairs choosing between the two on this category, as Bernd’s save rate is 74.5%.
This is something where Martinez really excels. The Argentine has a Spiderman-like ability to make seemingly any cross stick to his hands no matter the power.
One of the joys of the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea was watching Emi tower above his defence to grab balls out of the skies like King Kong clawing at airplanes atop the Empire State Building.
Leno simply doesn’t carry the same presence. Against the same opposition in December, the German flapped at a free kick swung in from deep, allowing Jorginho to notch in the equaliser in Arteta’s first home game in charge. Chelsea went on to win the game 2-1.
We are not blessed with a particularly tall defence, or one that is any good in the air. In fact, Shkodran Mustafi – who, at just 6ft tall, is on the shorter side for a centre half – is probably our best header of the ball. Having a ‘keeper who can command his box from set plays and crosses is therefore a welcome relief. Emi is comfortably on top in this category.
This one is no contest. In a career spanning nearly a decade Bernd Leno has over 400 senior appearances under his belt. If it weren’t for the embarrassment of riches Germany have in their goalkeeping department, he surely would have obtained more than his six international caps during that time as well.
The German made his first team debut for Bayer Leverkusen at the age of just 19 in the Champions League against Chelsea funnily enough. He has been a first-choice goalkeeper at club level more or less ever since.
At the same age Martinez was making his debut for Arsenal in the 7-5 Carling Cup victory over Reading. It’s safe to say that performance didn’t do him many favours, as he has only made 15 Premier League appearances since.
His most recent run of twelve games on the bounce has been comfortably his longest in between the sticks for Arsenal. The unusual circumstances of that run mean that question marks remain over his ability to sustain his form over a full season in front of crowds. If you were going for experience Bernd Leno would be the safer option.
It’s very rare that I envy a man with the hair and eyebrows of Mikel Arteta, but this is a very tough decision that I’m glad I don’t personally have to make.
Rumours coming out of the club are that both ‘keepers seem set to stay to fight it out for the number one spot next season. No matter what happens, it’s safe to say that Arsenal will have the best number 2 in the League.
I was so unsure as to which player to go for that I took to the sane and rational world of Twitter to see what other fans thought in a poll. After about an hour the poll was at 50/50 showing just how close the two are.
Eventually though Martinez did start to emerge as a clear favourite among the fans with a roughly 65/35 majority. I have to say I’m swaying that way too. It’s harsh on Bernd Leno given the circumstances in which he lost his place, but football can be cruel sometimes. The Argentine has been waiting over a decade for the opportunity to make the Arsenal number one spot his own. He now deserves the chance to lose it.