Emiliano Martinez probably felt a little conflicted on his return to the Emirates Stadium. He will be happy, no doubt, to have established himself as a Premier League regular, as Aston Villa’s undisputed No1 goalkeeper.
But it may have been slightly bittersweet, too. In the back of his mind, he will have wondered what might have been, whether it could, perhaps should, have been him between the sticks at the other end of the pitch.
Instead, it was Bernd Leno who lined up in goal for Arsenal. And he was the busier of the two goalkeepers in a match that went Villa’s way from the start. The German picked the ball out of his net within 45 seconds, though John McGinn’s emphatic finish proved in vain as VAR promptly ruled the goal out.
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The ball was in the net again 25 minutes later, and this time there was no VAR intervention. Arsenal fell behind, and Martinez, after ten years at the Emirates, was celebrating as a visitor.
He would have been keen to impress, keen to put a seed of doubt in Mikel Arteta’s mind. Did he put his trust in the right goalkeeper? Was it worth persevering with Martinez, even when Leno returned from injury?
That debate will continue regardless of what happened here, although what is clear is that both are accomplished, reliable goalkeepers. Arsenal and Villa have, for the most part, been defensively astute so far this season, with the exception of what was almost a defensive capitulation in the second-half from the Gunners here.
For Martinez, this was the kind of performance Arsenal fans had become familiar with during his run in the team towards the end of last term. He was not especially busy, but did everything with minimal fuss and real authority.
A weak backpass from McGinn almost left the Argentine exposed, but he raced out to beat Thomas Partey to the ball, sliding in with a strong right leg. Later on,…