An icon in the making: The rise of Emiliano Martinez

It was the dying minutes of the match between Arsenal and the recently crowned champions Liverpool. To the surprise of many, the gunners were leading 2-1. After the loss against Manchester City, another defeat was looming large over Liverpool’s head. Liverpool’s menacing and fast-paced attack was pouring in on Arsenal who preferred to sit back and absorb the pressure.

Trent Alexander-Arnold from right outside the penalty area attempted an ambitious strike. It took a huge deflection off an Arsenal player. Emiliano Martinez, the second choice, who was in for the injured Bernd Leno, was static for a moment, but only for a moment before taking a full-length dive to his left side.

For a second it felt that the ball was going in, but in the next Martinez’s fingertips made solid contact with the ball. He was in the air, his body completely stretched striking a god-like figure defying the laws of physics. The goal was saved; Arterta let out a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the stands were empty, there was no crowd for the applause. But that save, shared over and over through social media combined with his stellar performance under the sticks gave Martinez a cult-like status among the Arsenal faithful.

It took him 10 years, many mediocre loan-spells, and an injury to Leno to show the world what he is capable of. What would have been a disappointing career took a complete U-turn. Now Leno will have to fight for his place, and might even lose it, for Martinez stands tall, brimming with confidence and just one match away from an FA Cup title.

Emi Martinez, then 16, was scouted when he was playing for Argentine U17s. Impressed, Arsenal snatched him from Independiente for a mere £1.1m. But he didn’t make an instant impact at Emirates. On the contrary, he was fringe player, scraping an appearance here and there on his 8-year spell at Arsenal. He was constantly loaned out to lower division sides like Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, and Reading. He also made five appearances for Getafe on loan.

Martinez came off the bench and to the limelight on June 20 against Brighton after Bernd Leno was taken off due to an injury. He had made six appearances in Europa League till then along with four FA cup starts. His stats speak volumes, out of 22 appearances this season Martinez kept 9 clean sheets while boasting a save percentage of 74.4. He has been outstanding for Arsenal especially since the restart of Premier league after the break. A hardworking, confident, no-nonsense shot-stopper like Martinez is just the person Arsenal needs now. His performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinal won him many plaudits.

Martinez’s career till now is a brief foray into the life of every second choice goalkeeper. Without a stroke of luck or unexpected turn events, barely does a number 2 goalkeeper get a chance to impress the footballing world.

Saturday’s match against Chelsea will be his 12th consecutive appearance for Arsenal. With a victory, he can end the season on a high note and he deserves the trophy more than anyone else.

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