For the past month or so, the Gooners have found new hope between the sticks thanks to the stunning displays of Vito Mannone. Long gone seem the days of Manuel Almunia and that dreadful game against Olimpiakos in Piraeus in last year’s Champions Legue group stage where both Lukasz Fabianski and the aforementioned Mannone had such a dreadful display, Arsenal supporters were left fretting over the consistency and good health of Wojciech Szczesny. There is no doubt that Mannone’s loan at Hull City has given fruit, and that the keeper is currently going through his best spell in an Arsenal shirt.
What many Gooners may not have noticed over the past few fixtures is that a relatively unknown name has turned up in the substitutes’ bench. Ever since Szczesny and Fabianski have been injured, 20-year old goalkeeper Damián Martínez has taken a place on the bench. The young Argentine, who arrived at the team in August 2010, and was immediately sent to Oxford United on an emergency loan, rose to prominence in the Arsenal Reserves squad earning himself a call-up to the Full Argentina National Squad in August 2011, barely a year after his transfer from Independiente. Albeit, he is yet to play for the team, the young Gunner still has plenty of time.
So, can Gooners really rely on this young lad? After all, if something happens to Don Vito, the boy would be part of the Starting XI. Plus, the past seven years haven’t just meant a trophy drought, they’ve meant a crisis on the goalkeeping position that has seemingly just been solved last season. The answer is probably yes. I’m not saying he’d step up and take Szczesny’s, Fabianski’s, and Mannone’s place, after all, there is a reason he is still a Reserve goalkeeper. Nonetheless, the boy has proven more than once that he has what it takes to become a star for the Gunners. The most recent display of his talents came this past month in Arsenal’s Capital One Cup fixture against Coventry City, which resulted in a resounding 6-1 victory for the Gunners. Although Martínez did let one goal in (some might argue it was due to a defensive mistake) the game proved that the lad has the potential to become a star between the sticks. Last season, Martínez featured thirteen times for the reserves squad, helping the young team manage a comfortable third spot in the Reserves League.
Speaking to Arsenal.com last April, the young Argentine emphasized on his desire of reaching the level of the first team, and thus, mentioned the possibility on going on loan this year:
“Gerry [Peyton, the goalkeeper coach,] said to me that I would be on the bench for the Carling Cup and then I was there for the FA Cup too. He said to me: ‘If you have to come on, are you ready?’, and I said ‘Yes, I am ready’.
“I am still looking forward to being on the bench for a few more games, trying to do my best in the reserves and then be ready for the first team. These are my ambitions for the next two months.”
“[Wojciech Szczesny] said he wasn’t ready for the first team yet so he went out on loan and learned so much there, Then he came back to Arsenal and played in the first team as he was ready.”
“Next season a loan spell could be an option for me.”
Due to the recent injuries in the goalkeeping position, Martínez’s first full team debut might come sooner than expected. I personally believe that, although the lad may not be the squad’s top performer in his position, he has the potential to be a great keeper in the future. Plus, he seems grounded and striving to improve his game. The way I see it, Damián Martínez’s desire isn’t just to play for the first team squad, but rather to reach the level in which he can shine there, and that can only be a good thing for the Arsenal.