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The Great Wall of B6

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

On the 16th September 2020, Emi "El Dibu" Martinez joined Aston Villa on a 4 year deal. Off the back of a successful string of appearances for Arsenal during protect restart, the Argentine was snapped up by the Villa for a fee that could rise to £20 million. A price tag deemed a bargain for an incredibly in form, having just won the FA cup and community shield for the Gunners.

Dean Smith, who was in charge at the time of Martinez' signing, said:

"It is rare to be able to buy a top-class goalkeeper who hasn't yet reached their peak age". In hindsight you could change the phrase 'top-class' to 'world class'. Martinez' choice to move from the capital to B6 was to get the regular game time he desired. Yes, he had just won trophies with Arsenal so was achieving a level of success, but game time was his main adoration, and quite simply the direct route to a place in the Argentina squad. And this was not a guarentee at Arsenal as Bernd Leno was still Arteta's preferred option in goal.

Dibu was Villa's 3rd signing of the summer window, with Matty Cash and Ollie Watkins preceding him, and all 3 were prepped and ready to start the first game of the season against Sheffield United. That game was a debut to remember for Emi as he stretched to tip a John Lundstram penalty past the post. I sat there in awe watching the replays, the spring he had got into that save down to his right, and the following stare at his defenders as if to say "Don't make me have to do that again". Villa went on to win the game 1-0, therefore giving Martinez a clean sheet to his name as well as a penalty save.

Emi started to show off his class, making some smart saves over the next few games, keeping a few more clean sheets on the way. One of those clean sheets being away at the Emirates, where Martinez watched on as Villa dismantled his old team Arsenal. His quick thinking and accurate throw got a counter attack started for us to score our 3rd of the game. The month of December returned 4 clean sheets in 5 games for Martinez, with a particularly impressive save against Wolves at the Molineux. Neto neatly chipped a rabona cross in for Dendoncker, who volleyed goalwards with power, only for Martinez to be well positioned and quick on the draw to make the save.

From the turn of the new year up to Easter, the big man managed to add another 6 clean sheets to his tally, making his total 14 for the season, just 2 away from breaking the shared record held by Friedel and Bosnich. One of those clean sheets was in the 0-0 draw at the Amex, where no matter what Brighton threw at him, he batted it away. It was a real top class performance. I was sure, and i expect many others were too, that he was going to smash the clean sheet record. But the season effectively fizzled out for the team, and the defence became leaky once again. His final clean sheet of the season was in the 0-0 draw against Everton at home, therefore managing to equal the record. Not a bad start to life as a Villa.

Emi's first season for us was a massive success, and he was the standout performer for a good proportion of the fan base. The success of the season led to him earning his debut for his national side against Chile in a world cup qualifier. They played Chile again just 11 days later in their opening game of the Copa America. It was his competitive debut in a major tournament, and he saved a penalty in that game too. Unfortunately, the rebound was tucked home however. But that tournament ended up being the highlight of Dibu's career so far, where he saved several penalties on the way to winning the tournament, and the Golden Glove award. Not only that, his antics in a penalty shootout against Colombia were well coveted across social media, and a popular GIF was born. Yes, you know the one.

Coming back from an emotionally successful summer, his focus was back on the club, with the aim once again this season to try and breach the top 6. He did an interview about life at B6, and it brought about his iconic quote that us Villa fans still love to this day... "Villa's a BIG club, mate". Music to our ears.

Now, this season begins, and in the first 6 games he managed to keep 3 clean sheets. Very handy return from a keeper. One of those clean sheets was in the 3-0 win against Everton, and when Matty Cash blasted an effort into the roof of the net, Emi ran to meet a jubilant Cash in celebration. But then soon after, we hit the rough patch, the 5 in a row, where the defence was like a sieve against opposition attacks and Emi was more exposed. There were still, however, some fine saves on display with Martinez showing he hadn't lost his world class capabilities. One such instance was the save he made from Aubameyang's penalty. Sadly, the Arsenal forward was quickest to react to the rebound and calmly dispatched it to make it 2-0 to Arsenal. Emi looked slightly dejected, but the guy is a mentality monster and doesn't let his head drop.

With Dean Smith being sacked, and Steven Gerrard coming in, the defence seemed to look a bit sturdier again. This gave a platform for the shot-stopper to add to his clean sheet tally for the season. And let's not forget that terrific save against Leicester at Villa Park. Harvey Barnes directed a looping header towards the top corner, but the Argentine used all his athleticism and reach to tip the ball over. Outstanding.

If we bring ourselves to the most recent fixtures, Manchester United at home in the league gave us our first sight of a real Martinez error. Bruno lined up an effort from around 20 yards out, and a somewhat unsighted Emiliano Martinez let the strike slip through his grasp and into the net. A strange sight for Villa fans, as Mr. Consistent had his first major blip. But that momentary lapse didn't faze the keeper, he turned in a solid performance for the rest of the game, making some crucial saves and encapsulating the spirit of 'never give up' in this Villa camp. Of course, from 2-0 down we went on to level the game, and a relieved Emi frantically hopped the advertising boards to celebrate with the Villa faithful. As i finish this, Emi has just kept another clean sheet away at Everton in what was a reasonably quiet outing for him, but this should be a good opportunity to start a run of clean sheets.

Martinez has been one of the first names on the team sheet since he's been at the club, and he has given a lot of credit to goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler for helping him on his journey for us. Cutler himself is a fan favourite because of his nice guy demeanor, and his excellent work with keepers over the past few seasons. But he has really struck gold with El Dibu, and the duo will be a big part to any success we acheieve over the next few years.

I have never personally found myself having a goalkeeper as one of my favourite players at the club. Sure, I've admired the likes of Friedel, Sorensen, Guzan, and Johnstone over the years. But I've never felt a real bond with them like i do with Emi. He has a sort of aura around him, it's infectious, like he was born into this club. From the moment he came here, he just understood what it meant to play for Aston Villa. This, plus his mentality to win every single game, and strive to keep out every shot makes him a priceless asset to the club, and makes him one of the most irreplaceable members of our squad. With this contract renewal that takes him to 2027 at the club, it feels like the club is moving forwards, trying to steer away from being a selling club with strong rumours being that there is no release clause in his contract. My love for Emi grows stronger and stronger with everything he does. Long live Emiliano Martinez.


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