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Emiliano Martinez interview: Arsenal goalkeeper on seizing his chance and impressing Mikel Arteta
Emiliano Martinez tells Sky Sports about his hopes of becoming Arsenal's No 1 and why the future is bright under Mikel Arteta. Watch Arsenal vs Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 8pm on Tuesday; Kick-off 8.15pm
Last Updated: 07/07/20 9:13pm
For Emiliano Martinez, Arsenal's visit to Wolves on Saturday was not just a fourth consecutive win and third consecutive Premier League clean sheet. It was also a reminder of how far he has come, and another lesson in the virtues of patience for someone who has had to show plenty.
It was there, at Molineux, that Martinez spent the fourth of six loan spells away from Arsenal, eventually losing his status as first-choice goalkeeper to Carl Ikeme following an injury. Four years on, however, he returned with a performance to suggest he may yet have a future as Arsenal's.
Martinez has been an Arsenal player for a decade but this is only the second time he has started four consecutive games for them. Team-mates have come and gone. Managers too. There have been loans at Oxford, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Getafe and Reading as well as Wolves.
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"It's been up and down in my Arsenal career, to be honest," he says in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports. "There was something I had inside me that said, 'Why am I not getting my chance in the club that I love?' But God always puts you in the right place at the right time. I've worked really hard over the years and been really patient and now I'm getting the rewards."
Arsenal fans were left cursing their luck when Bernd Leno joined a long list of injured players during last month's loss to Brighton but Martinez has excelled in his absence, his commanding performances helping to revive the club's hopes of European qualification at the same time as enhancing his own prospects of achieving a long-held ambition to become Arsenal's No 1.
"I always believed I could do it here and the club always believed in me as well," he says. "That's one of the reasons I stayed here for so long. They always believed I could become the No 1. That motivation kept me going and it's not like I haven't been progressing over the years. I was always progressing and pushing my career forward."
It was challenging, all the same, to maintain belief during a run of loan spells which disrupted his personal life and did not always work out as planned.
"When I went to Reading last season," he says, "I said to myself, 'This is my last loan.' My body was always tired at the end of the season from travelling and not knowing what I was going to be doing next, so I made that challenge to myself that it was my last loan and I had to do well.
"I prepared myself mentally more than ever."
Those preparations paid off at the Madejski Stadium, where he helped Reading avoid relegation from the Championship following his arrival in January - "they gave me an amazing opportunity and I'm grateful," he says - before returning to Arsenal with renewed determination.
We knew Mikel would be a good manager when he signed here, but we didn't know he would be this good. He is incredible
Emiliano Martinez on Mikel Arteta
Martinez's appearances were limited to the cup competitions in the first half of this season but his attitude impressed former team-mate Mikel Arteta right from the start of his tenure and the admiration is mutual.
"We knew Mikel would be a good manager when he signed here, but we didn't know he would be this good," says Martinez.
"He is incredible. He knows how to deal with experienced players, with young players. He gives us a gameplan against anybody and gives us hope when we do the training sessions.
"He knows what position you have to be in in every department, whether you are a goalkeeper, a striker or a left-winger. And then, when we go into the games, those scenarios we worked on in training actually happen, so we start believing in every word that he says.
"When he says something now, we are so willing to listen to him because we know he will take us to another level. That's Arteta."
The Spaniard has brought structure and discipline to Arsenal both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Not everyone has succeeded in meeting his standards - Matteo Guendouzi has fallen out of favour recently and so too has Mesut Ozil - but Martinez insists Arteta's uncompromising approach is exactly what the group needed.
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"You're in or you're out, you're with him or without him, and there's no discussion on that," he says. "We know that if we want to play and we want to be at this football club, we have to be on board.
"That's good for the team because no one can relax. If you relax, you don't train properly or you don't perform like he wants you to, you're out.
"You have to follow him and that's what we're trying to do now."
Arteta is not the only one pushing Martinez. The head coach brought his own backroom staff to Arsenal when he took the job in December, including Iñaki Caña Pavon, a respected goalkeeping coach who previously worked with Brentford and shares Arteta's relentless work ethic.
"Iñaki is a hard-working man and he has shown us from the first day what he wants from his goalkeepers," says Martinez. "It's been really good, to be honest. He works really hard with us. We are dead when we finish the training sessions with him."
The hard work has focused on the traditional aspects of goalkeeping but also on distribution. Like his mentor Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Arteta is eager to involve his goalkeepers in Arsenal's build-up play and it's down to Pavon to hone Martinez, Leno and third-choice goalkeeper Matt Macey's ability with their feet as well as with their hands.
"Iñaki shows us videos every day and he is constantly telling us what we need to do to improve and how to do it," says Martinez.
"Even when you think you have done the right things and you keep a clean sheet, he will still tell you 10 bad things in your game. That's good. That's how you improve. He's a positive man and we are glad to have him."
Martinez is glad to have an improving defence in front of him too.
David Luiz faced a wave of criticism after his error-strewn performance against Manchester City in Arsenal's first game of the Premier League restart but the Brazilian has impressed since Arteta's recent switch to three at the back. Shkodran Mustafi, another much-maligned figure in Arsenal's defence, has earned plaudits for his displays too.
"David has been at the top for so many years and it's the same with Musti," says Martinez. "Sometimes when you make mistakes at big clubs you get punished. With Arsenal, people always seem to blame the defence for defeats. But I feel really safe behind them.
"They have experience and they are constantly talking through the whole game. When you play behind them, it's not like what people say. It's not, 'Oh, they make mistakes, they don't know how to play football'.
"I feel really safe, and now that we've kept three clean sheets on the bounce in the Premier League, people are starting to say that the defence is actually solid."
It helps, of course, that Arteta has brought a level of defensive organisation to Arsenal that his predecessor, Unai Emery, seemed unable to implement. "Now, we have structure, we have a gameplan, we have game management and the defence looks stronger and stronger," adds Martinez. "Believe me, David and Musti are top players."
For Martinez himself, the priority now is to help Arsenal continue their winning run against Leicester at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night - "winning is all I care about," he says - but with Leno's knee injury likely to keep him out for the rest of the season, the 27-year-old knows the opportunity is finally there for him to make a lasting impression.
"I heard the manager say recently that I've been really respectful over the years and I think that's true," says Martinez. "I'm a team player, so even if the manager decides to play another guy, I accept it.
"But I never let my head go down, I always keep going, and now that I have the opportunity, I'm grabbing it with both hands. Hopefully, when all the goalkeepers are back in training, the manager will have a decision to make. My aim is to make it a hard decision."
Watch Arsenal vs Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 8pm on Tuesday; Kick-off 8.15pm