Arteta approaches decision deadline to solve complicated Arsenal conundrum

When Bernd Leno went down injured for Arsenal during the Premier League run-in last season, you could have forgiven Mikel Arteta for being worried.

The Germany goalkeeper was, alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gunners best player in the opening two third of last term, before the coronavirus-enforced break.

Leno injured his knee in the second game of Project Restart and allowed Emiliano Martinez to step up from his No.2 spot and fill the void.

And the Argentine ‘keeper, who has been on the club’s books since arriving as a teenager in 2010, duly took his opportunity.

Offered an opportunity for regular action with Leno out, the man with six loan spells – at Oxford, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Wolves, Getafe and Reading – under his belt was mightily impressive.

Martinez came up big on numerous occasions as Arsenal secured FA Cup glory and a place in this year’s Europa League, making a number of key saves as they claimed the crown following a quarter-final win over Sheffield United, semi-final success vs Manchester City and final victory against Chelsea.

In the art of negotiation, you should always try to broker a deal from a position of strength.

In the last month, during which time he has also helped Arsenal win the Community Shield, that is precisely what Martinez has attempted to do, knowing that his stock has never been higher at the Emirates than it is right now.

Last month he went public, declaring: “I don’t want to go back to the bench and go months and months without playing. I’ll decide the best option for my career.”

Asked whether that meant he'd leave if he didn't play, he added: "Definitely, yes."

Speaking after the penalty shootout win over Liverpool, Arteta stated: "Emi has shown in the last few months what he's capable to do for this football club.

“I am convinced he has the level to play for us consistently at that level, he showed that today in a final.”

Quite simply, Martinez is pushing for Arteta to back up those words by making him the club’s No.1.

However, ahead of Saturday’s opener against Fulham, there is an impasse. Neither Martinez or Leno have been told who will start between the sticks in the Premier League opener – but whoever doesn’t will no doubt be left unhappy and questioning their next move.

Leno, fit again and in action for Germany against Switzerland this week, will expect to be back in as first choice.

The feeling is that it will be he to whom Arteta turns once more.

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And if that happens, then Martinez, whom Arteta would like to keep, is adamant that he wants to leave.

He wants to be Argentina’s ‘keeper at the next World Cup, and knows that unless he’s playing week in week out, then he won’t be displacing Sergio Romero – despite the irony of the Manchester United stopper only being backup at club level.

“My target is to consolidate my place with Arsenal and to become the Argentina No.1," he told Argentine radio station Continental in August.

"I won’t stop until I get that and if I don’t play for Arsenal, then clearly, I would move on.”

Aston Villa are ready to offer Martinez a new home, and after having an opening bid rejected have returned with an improved offer, which comes closer to Arsenal’s £20million valuation.

That valuation would never have been anywhere near as high six or 12 months ago; Martinez’s displays mean Arsenal can negotiate from a position of strength.

And with Martinez having just two years left on his £20,000-a-week contract – and making clear he won’t sign a new deal if he’s only No.2 – Arsenal will never be in such a good position again when it comes to his transfer fee.

For Villa, who can offer him the No.1 spot with veteran Tom Heaton out injured, it is a waiting game, because Arsenal won’t let him go without having a replacement lined up.

Brentford’s David Raya – who goalkeeper coach Inaki Cana worked with at the Bees, before joining Arsenal last December – is the preferred option, but the Championship club have no interest in selling their first choice.

Villa can't wait forever, however they can watch things unfold given they don't start their season until September 20.

But if Arsenal can't find a replacement, then Martinez will be forced to stay put, leaving Arteta with an unhappy reserve.

With Arsenal kicking off the new Premier League season early doors on Saturday, a delicate situation is set to come to a head very soon.

Ultimately, one way or another, the lunchtime clash at Craven Cottage will define what has become a somewhat complicated conundrum.

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