Exclusive - Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has confirmed he was offered a contract extension to stay at Arsenal last year, before deciding to leave after Mikel Arteta could not guarantee him a regular starting berth.
Martinez, 28, famously lifted the FA Cup with Arsenal in 2020 after years of being on the fringes of the first team, but he admitted he felt the time was right to say goodbye ahead of the 2020/21 season in an interview with 90min.es.
His decision appears to have paid off, with Villa currently four points ahead of his old side in the Premier League. Martinez himself has played in all 21 league games for his new team to date.
In a fun, wide-ranging interview, the Argentinian also spoke about how current teammate Jack Grealish is England's best player, and just how it feels to be such a popular pick in Fantasy Premier League; a game played by millions of football fans.
On leaving Arsenal
Martinez opened up about his motivations for pushing for a transfer ahead of this season, and his dream of reaching Europe with Villa.
"Many told me that Aston Villa stayed up by one point last year, that it is a club that was in the second division," he told 90min. "Although history tells that it is a big club.
"Now, in recent years it was not a stable club, but when I went at no time did I think about staying only in the Premier League, but rather the dream of qualifying for Europe, taking Villa to what it was many years ago.
"It was a decision of me, my agent and my family, which was the best for my career, knowing that you never know how it will go, but it was clear to me that I had to leave Arsenal. Today I can say that I made the right decision.
"There are many who do not like to take risks, but to stay in the comfort zone...Arsenal offered me a new contract to renew and I didn't want to. My wish was to go out the front door of Arsenal, not the back door, and what better way than to leave after 10 years winning two titles.
"I talked about it with my family and said, 'it has to be now, there will not be a better farewell'. Nobody understood why, since I was in my best moment at the club, but I decided to leave because I was not guaranteed to be the goalkeeper every game.
"I did not want to have the doubt of having to wait 20, 30 games to play in one tournament, so I decided to go to a club a little smaller in theory and play every game. The fact that I play in the Premier League every game for a team like Aston Villa is impressive."
What Mikel Arteta told him before leaving
Martinez also revealed the conversation he had with Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta prior to his exit, insisting there is no hard feelings towards his old manager: "He told me that he could not assure the position of any player, including the goalkeeper.
"That was on a Tuesday and he said, 'you train well and on Friday you will know who plays'.
"I had won two titles playing at a high level and they did not confirm that I was going to play on Saturday. Given that doubt, I sent him a message and said thank you for everything but that I was leaving. He later helped me out, as was my wish.
"I am as I am thanks to Arteta."
On being a Fantasy Premier League superstar
The Argentine has already become a firm fan favourite not only at Villa Park, but also with lovers of Fantasy Premier League - where he leads the points charts for goalkeepers and is the most picked option for players.
Martinez said about his new status: "I don't play [FPL], I did for two years but I never had an uninterrupted season but you don't know the comments and messages that I received about Fantasy: 'oh great points in that game' or 'I made you captain'.
"It's incredible the quantity of people that play the game and they have sent me photos showing me that I am the keeper with the most points in fantasy right now, the first to get 100 points.
"It's good. I'm going to have to play it."
Asked if he will choose himself, Martinez responded: "I don't know, if you told me that I was going to be the first goalkeeper to reach 100 points in the game, maybe I would've said no, but if that's possible, why not?"
On Jack Grealish and his "calves like two basketballs"
Martinez went on to name Jack Grealish as the best talent he has worked with in his career, even comparing the playmaker's 'natural talent' to greats Lionel Messi and Neymar.
With six goals and ten assists already in 2020/21, Grealish is an outside contender for the PFA Player of the Year award and tipped to star for England at the Euros this summer.
Martinez said of Vila's captain: "Honestly, he's a superstar. Firstly, because he is the captain of the team and secondly because he is a player with natural talent.
"There are players that are talented, there are players that are created, like [Cristiano] Ronaldo, and there are players like Messi that are talented all their lives.
"I read an article where [Pep] Guardiola said that [Phil] Foden is the most talented English player that he has seen in his career and for me the most talented that I have seen day to day is Jack Grealish.
"He has abilities like Messi, who can beat three or four players in a tiny space.
"He reminds me of a very South American player, of Neymar with the skills. On top of that, he has a physique to match anyone. He has calves like two basketballs. He has an unreal physique and a special talent to watch."
Source : 90min