Will Emiliano Martinez's exit come back to haunt Mikel Arteta?

Arsenal were happy to take big money for Emiliano Martinez when Aston Villa came calling but are now in the midst of a goalkeeping CRISIS… Mat Ryan and Alex Runarsson are WORSE options than the Argentine – who has been outstanding for his new club

  • Arsenal travel to the Midlands on Saturday for an early kick-off with Aston Villa 
  • Villa are a point ahead of the Gunners and have played two games fewer so far 
  • Following Bernd Leno’s red card Arsenal have a goalkeeper crisis on their hands 
  • Mat Ryan was signed on loan though is a doubt to make his debut due to injury 

It’s safe to say Arsenal haven’t quite escaped their questionable run of form, following a recent defeat to Wolves.

Sure, the Gunners were dealt a terrible hand with the controversial sending off of defender David Luiz, and then goalkeeper Bernd Leno, but the loss meant five points have now been dropped in the last three league matches.

Arsenal were supposed to be turning a corner, yet now uncertainty looms large.

Leno’s dismissal has created a headache Mikel Arteta could have absolutely done without, ahead of trip to face plucky Aston Villa this afternoon.

Mikel Arteta will come up against a familiar face at Villa Park with Emiliano Martinez in goal

Bernd Leno’s red card at Wolves now means Arsenal have a goalkeeping crisis ahead of the tie

A goalkeeping crisis isn’t helpful at the best of times, yet when a team is desperate to establish a period of form it has the potential of being fatal.

Arteta must now decide between new loan signing Mat Ryan, who is still touch-and-go after recovering from a hip problem, and the lesser tested Alex Runarsson. 

To make matters worse, the in-form man lining up in the opposition goal is none other than Emiliano Martinez, the Gunners’ FA Cup hero from last season who Arteta sanctioned an exit for in the summer.

So, how does the Arsenal boss figure this one out? And will the departure of Martinez ultimately be his undoing? Sportsmail takes a closer look… 

Letting the Argentine stopper go was always going to be questioned, particularly after his admirable FA Cup run and heroics in the final.

What saved Arteta from much of the scrutiny was the fact that Villa were willing to pay up big in order to get the deal done quickly.

It appeared to make sense all ends up, with Arsenal trimming an inflated squad and getting a £17million cash injection for a sub goalkeeper, while Villa would receive an experienced stopper to lead the battle of staying in the top flight.

Martinez has been in commanding form since his move with 10 clean sheets from 20 games

Now, however, with Villa a point and a place above Arsenal in the table, and Arteta without an established keeper to call upon, it appears the Midlands club got the best part of the deal.

Martinez has been hugely influential for Dean Smith’s side this season, and has undoubtedly secured points all on his own with a series of stellar performances.

In his 20 Premier League matches played, Martinez has kept a clean sheet in exactly half of them.

The figures make for impressive reading, given Villa have a goal difference just narrowly behind Chelsea and Tottenham, and better than that of fifth and sixth placed West Ham and Everton.

Martinez pulled off heroics in the FA Cup last season, but Arsenal were happy to take a big fee

Despite Villa being regularly attacked this season, Martinez is embracing the action. His save percentage currently sits at 75 per cent, placing him among the best in the division.

Crunching the numbers a little further, Martinez this season has an xGoT faced (the expected value of shots faced on target which should result in a goal) of 25.2. 

Therefore, having conceded 24 so far this season, Martinez is shown to be over-performing in his role with a prevention rate of 1.2 (what would deem to be an expected goal).

Is Ryan ready?

Mat Ryan has carved out a strong reputation for himself in the Premier League since arriving at Brighton when the club achieved top flight status.

Upon sealing his shock loan move to the Emirates last month he proudly noted how he was signing for his boyhood club, which bodes well for the Gunners faithful.

However Arteta’s words of caution regarding his fitness status suggest the Australia is far from primed to be thrown in at the deep end.

‘He had a muscular issue and in the last two days he hasn’t been able to train,’ Arteta said of Ryan on Tuesday. ‘Hopefully we can get him back in the next few days.’

Mat Ryan has arrived to bolster the defensive ranks but is facing a race to be fit in time to play

Ryan has slotted in as second choice to Leno for the remainder of the campaign, and will certainly be needed in the absence of the German. But, is he any better than what they had?

Ryan, who like Martinez is also 28, has played fewer games than the Argentine this season, just over half (11, compared to Martinez’s 20).

Worryingly, however, in that time he has conceded just five goals fewer than the Aston Villa keeper, suggesting he’s much more porous than the man he is now essentially replacing.

It means, statistically, Ryan is conceding a goal every 52 minutes of play. Martinez, in contrast, ships one every 75 minutes.

Less games obviously equates to less action, but Ryan’s 16 saves made this season pale in comparison to the 75 Martinez has made.

Arteta has a big decision to make, and will be counting on the fitness of Ryan to pull through

When it comes to xGoT faced, Ryan may want to look away. Figures, via Statsperform, show that Ryan was expected to concede 12.6 from his 11 matches. Letting in 19 goals, however, gives the ‘keeper a negative goals prevented percentage of -5.4.

Nerves will no doubt be high should Ryan make his bow on Saturday, and the Aussie stopper needs to summon a hearty degree of confidence from somewhere.

The gamble

Arteta’s other option, and one that looks increasingly likely at the moment, is to hand Alex Runarsson a Premier League start.

Signed from Dijon in September 2020, the 25-year-old Icelandic star probably did not expect to be in the thick of things so soon.

Tuesday night saw the stopper summoned from the bench at a rain soaked Molineux, to replace Leno once the German received his marching orders.

Runarsson, it should be said, did all that was asked of him. Arsenal were already trailing 2-1 courtesy of Joao Moutinho’s wonder strike, and the incoming keeper prevented any further goals hitting the back of the net.

Alex Runarsson was bought with high hopes, but has been pushed into the limelight quickly

Yet life in the Arsenal shirt had started poorly for the 25-year-old, after Runarsson endured something of a horror show against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup.

City won the fixture 4-1, in early December, after Arteta opted to hand the newcomer an opportunity between the sticks.

In just the third minute he flapped horribly at a corner ball, allowing Gabriel Jesus the simplest of headers. 

Then, early in the second half, Runarsson could only reflect in horror after tamely punching Riyad Mahrez’s freekick into the roof of his own net, after the Gunners had got themselves back into the game at 1-1.

He was then easily chipped by Phil Foden for a third, and later powerless to prevent a close-range Aymeric Laporte header. All in all, an evening to forget. 

The 25-year-old flapped horribly in just the third minute against City as Gabriel Jesus scored

Arteta himself suggested a mistake had been made with Arsenal’s handling of their goalkeeping situation, and that it was wrong for Runarsson to become the main focus so soon.

He told reporters as the January transfer window deadline approached: ‘We didn’t have much time to do what we really wanted to do and we decided to assess the situation now in this window, which is what we are trying to do, and we will make a decision about how we want to move forward in those three positions in the goalkeeping area.’ 

Now, it’s crunch time. Arteta has big decisions to make, and fast.

It’s clear the Arsenal boss has a preference to get Ryan involved, given he was acquired late in the January window for this exact reason.

He later went on to embarrassingly punch Riyad Mahrez’s freekick into the roof of his own net

A race against the fitness clock is likely to ensue. Villa can go four points clear of Arsenal with a win on Saturday lunchtime, and have played two games fewer than the Gunners.

Arteta may have experienced a slight release of pressure in recent weeks with some timely victories, but the heat will be cranked straight back up if the Villa Park showdown goes sour.

Tricky upcoming fixtures against Leeds United and Man City await, with arduous European legs against Benfica sandwiched in between. It’s decision time for Arteta, and one he desperately needs to get right.




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