Mikel Arteta has told Emi Martinez to enjoy his chance to shine as Arsenal’s first choice stopper with the Argentine set to deputise for the injured Bernd Leno for the rest of the season.
Martinez joined the Gunners in 2012 but has had to be patient working his way up the ranks at London Colney relying on five loan spells in England’s lower leagues and a season with La Liga side Getafe to gain valuable first team experience.
To date, he only has seven Premier League appearances to his name but if everything goes to plan he could double that number in the coming weeks.
Asked whether Martinez is ready to be put under the spotlight, Arteta backed his former teammate to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
“He’s been very patient for a lot of years, waiting for this opportunity,” the boss told his pre-Southampton press conference.
“Now it’s in his hands. He needs to enjoy it. He needs to take it, enjoy it, make the most out of it and help the team when he really needs to. That’s what he is here for.”
He added: “What I know about Emi is the way he prepares himself, how patient he’s been and how much he’s been waiting for this opportunity.
“When you do that, you expect when the opportunity comes to perform and put everything that you’ve done in the past into the next few games to help the team and make proud of yourself and [realise] it was the right decision to stay, to work and behave the way he’s done over the years at the club.”
While it sounds like Leno’s injury – a moderate ligament sprain to his right knee – isn’t as bad as first feared, we’re still going to be reliant on Martinez at a crucial point of the season. Arteta dismissed any suggestion that the 27-year-old doesn’t have the quality to succeed.
“Of course he has [what it takes],” he said. “You would not be the number two goalkeeper at Arsenal. The number two goalkeeper at Arsenal has to be ready to play, not just to be a back-up player.
“When you are needed you need to make the difference for your team.”