Defensive improvement at Aston Villa has been a running narrative through the 2020/21 Premier League season.
Summer signing Matty Cash has strengthened the right-flank of defence when many (including myself) felt no need to replace Frédéric Guilbert in that position.
Tyrone Mings continues to solidify his place in Gareth Southgate’s national team whilst also taking the armband in the absence of Jack Grealish.
It goes without saying that Emi Martinez has been pivotal in the rise up the table. On course to better the club’s clean sheet record in a single Premier League season, the Argentine has already made a powerful imprint on Villa folklore.
Beyond the penalty heroics of his debut, and the miraculous saves at Southampton, take a minute to think where Villa might’ve been without the shot-stopper. How much credit is Martinez owed for his role in boosting the club’s European ambitions?
Almost the best in the business
As I mentioned, Martinez is two shut-outs away from topping Villa’s clean-sheet record – Brad Friedel reached 15 in 2009/10.
Since the American set the record, his fellow compatriot Brad Guzan got closest to beating it, though still far from it. In the 2013/14, and 2014/15 seasons Guzan notched 9.
The scale of upgrade in Villa’s defence is evident when looking at statistics from last season.
Having conceded 38 goals in 33 league games so far, the tally at this point last year had already tipped 60!
Bearing in mind the defenders directly in front of the goalkeeper (Mings and Konsa) haven’t changed since that time, Martinez’s value really begins to stand out.
Perhaps goals conceded is too generic to measure the success of a goalkeeper. However, the number of shots saved gives a more accurate representation of the value of the player.
Last season, Villa’s goalkeepers logged a combined save percentage of 64.6%. Martinez currently stands at 77% – third-best in the league!
Regular readers of avillafan.com may know of my (sometimes vigorous) statistical player profiling. Diving further into the numbers with Martinez, we can use a newer measure from the statistical community to analyse the former Arsenal man.
Post shot expected goals looks at how likely a goalkeeper is to saving each shot he faces. The Opta definition reads ‘a measure of the quality of a shot based on variables such as assist type, shot angle, distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance’.
Using this number, then subtracting the actual number of goals conceded gives a representation as to the quality of a goalkeeper.
A positive figure represents the keeper has above average ability to save shots; negative figures indicate the goalkeeper would be expected to save more of the shots he’s faced.
In this regard, Emi Martinez’s tally of eight is enough to make him the best goalkeeper in the league – and by some way. In the second place, Fulham’s Alphonse Areola has a figure of 6.9%, whilst Illan Meslier of Leeds comes third with 5.6%.
To make this as clear as I can, if Villa didn’t have Martinez in net we probably would’ve conceded eight more goals than we have done already. To many, that may look like a fairly insignificant number, but the points accumulated due to the goalkeeper’s performances are invaluable.
Take those games at Southampton and Brighton for example, where Martinez made crucial saves to win Villa points. Without them, and many others, any hopes of European football next year would’ve been long extinguished.
If you were to look back across the season, the goals Martinez has prevented have kept Villa not only safe in the league but able to be talked about in the conversation for Europe.
For a decade, Emiliano Martinez was discarded by Arsenal. Now, the whole club wonders how they let such a talent slip from their grasp.
Given a chance at Villa Park, Martinez fuels the club’s ambitions of conquering Europe again. His impact has been incredible.