Lionel Messi ‘phenomenon’ comments prove Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta made transfer mistake

Arsenal: First fixtures of 2021/22 Premier League season

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Arsenal’s decision to sell Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa last summer appears to be one of the club’s least inspired transfer decisions in recent years. The 28-year-old has emerged among the Premier League’s best goalkeepers since joining the west Midlands club and has cemented his place as Argentina’s first-choice stopper with a highly impressive Copa America campaign.

Martinez has only been capped five times by his country since making his international debut last month, but has quickly established himself as the No 1 goalkeeper.

He helped Argentina to reach this year’s Copa America final on Thursday with a penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia in the last four with a heroic display between the sticks.

The former Arsenal man saved three spot-kicks to hand Lionel Messi and his team-mates a golden opportunity to win their first major tournament since 1993 with a place in the decisive match on Sunday.

Argentina are now gearing up to face old rivals Brazil in the final and Martinez will be expected to shut out the likes of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus as he looks to inspire his side to continental glory.

It was only a year ago that he was deemed surplus to requirements by Arsenal after making just 38 appearances for the Gunners over the course of a ten-year spell at the club.

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It seems as though Mikel Arteta’s decision to get rid was a misguided one, especially with none other than Messi himself showering Martinez in high praise after his sensational performance against Colombia.

“We have Emi, who is a phenomenon,” said the Barcelona icon, who is now a free agent, after the match.

“We knew that he was going to stop them. We know and trust him. He deserves it. We achieved the goal of being able to play all the games and now we are going to the final.”

Messi’s comments were echoed by Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni, who added: “We are very happy with Emiliano’s performance, not only because of the penalties, but also because of the security that he is transmitting.”

Martinez’s inspired performances for Argentina only serve to highlight the prematurity of his departure from Arsenal, who now find themselves with a tricky situation between the sticks.

Bernd Leno has been heavily linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium this summer, while Runar Alex Runarsson has failed to live up to expectations since joining the club to replace Martinez a year ago.

Arsenal were forced to recruit Brighton and Hove Albion outcast Mat Ryan on a six-month loan deal in January to provide additional cover, but the Australian stopper looks set to join Real Sociedad on a permanent basis ahead of next season.

The Gunners have recently been linked with a move for Ajax’s Andre Onana, who is banned until November after a doping violation, while Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale and Sam Johnstone of West Bromwich Albion have also been mentioned in connection with the club in recent weeks.

While moves for either of the latter two would allow Arsenal to kick off the season with an established second-choice goalkeeper, they will surely be kicking themselves for letting a player of Martinez’s quality join Villa last season.

He was never really given an opportunity to prove himself with the north London club despite a brief spell in the first team towards the end of the 2019/20 campaign in the absence of Leno, who had suffered a season-ending injury.

Martinez shone in the FA Cup final against Chelsea to help Arsenal clinch the trophy for a record 14th time but was unable to work his way back into Arteta’s plans, with the Spaniard’s reluctance to play him leading to his eventual exit.

It remains to be seen whether the Gunners will complete the signing of another goalkeeper over the coming weeks and months, but they could really do with the Argentina man at this moment in time to alleviate their dilemma.

However, Arteta’s ruthlessness a year ago looks to have returned to haunt him ahead of the new season, with Martinez long gone and reaching his full potential elsewhere.

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