Football. A game beloved to many due to its simplicity yet a game which serves as a hub to unparalleled innovation. In its rampant progression, the shoulders of simplicity on which the game stood & won hearts has slowly been lost to history. Across the tactical board, roles are scrutinized, philosophies are reimagined & visions are reset. With every evolution, the disciples hungry to master the art are forced to adapt, too. Ironically, however, only those who lay their foundations on the back of simplicity have managed to survive the complexities of the footballing world.
As I delve deeper into the immersive talent pool Spain has to offer, in the second edition of Uncut Gems, we come across a rising star who has managed to embody the principles of simple football succinctly: Arnau Martinez. A product of La Masia, the 19-year-old has quickly become a sensation in the La Liga. His defensive contributions for Girona at Right back paired with his attacking flair have certainly warranted keen interest from several clubs in Europe. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the profile of Girona’s heartthrob.
Name: Arnau Martinez.
Position: Right Fullback/Wingback/ Center back.
Preferred Foot: Right.
Current Club: Girona.
Arnau Martinez – Style of Play
A vessel of several admirable characteristics, Arnau’s ability to adapt is what makes him so unique. The youngster started his career as a center-back but was soon converted into a fullback after he showed a passion for moving further up to enable his attacking ferocity. The Catalan adapted to his new role with relative ease and further evolved his game as he was often deployed as a wingback, too. His adaptability has made him a crucial cornerstone in Girona’s successful first season back in the first division.
In charge of creativity down the right-hand side, Arnau has been a revelation. The Spaniard has displayed a wide array of passes and often relied on his ability to find his teammates even in narrow spaces to progress the ball. As a fullback who loves occupying spaces in the final third, Arnau often overlaps & supplies the Girona attack with exceptional crosses and balls into the box. Owing to his great technical ability, Arnau is also not scared to take on defenders & further the ball despite not being the fastest. Whenever he is paired with a skilled dribbler like Tsygankov on the right, the duo creates chaos by constantly interchanging roles to find a way to goal from out wide.
In spite of Girona’s propensity for possession, against big teams, the Catalan side struggles to retain possession. When forced to maintain form in defense, Arnau’s understanding of the game helps him position himself to neutralize any possible threat from the right. He forces the wide player into isolation where he then attempts to win the ball back by using his physicality. Sometimes, he dives into challenges without heeding the space left behind, but he has seemed to improve his decision-making over the course of the season.
In the era of pacy attacking fullbacks who are deemed to be a prerequisite for a team’s success, Arnau’s evolution serves as a reminder that with the technical ability it’s still possible for a fullback/ wingback to thrive as an extra attacking outlet while maintaining shape in defense.
Out of Possession
Duels: Aerial + Ground
Toughened playing football in the streets of Barcelona, Arnau is a player who isn’t afraid to challenge for the ball. The Catalan holds his own in challenges and refuses to come out of duels without winning the ball. Winning 5 ground duels p90, Arnau has been essential in neutralizing counterattacks in the middle third before they get potent. More often than not, he is seen isolating wide players before challenging them for the ball. At 181cm, the fullback isn’t the tallest defender in the league but he still manages to win a respectable 62% of his aerial duels. His rigidity in defense has caused many teams in defense to attack more centrally to progress towards the goal.
Tackling, Interceptions & Blocks:
Interceptions are a way of identifying how well a defender manages to position himself out of possession to win the ball back. While Arnau is constantly running up & down the field, his ability to intercept passes or block them has been quite impressive. The Catalan has averaged 0.76 interceptions per game while he blocks almost 1.2 passes p90. For a fullback, these numbers are impressive as they showcase his ability to maintain his position in the backline and track back from attacking positions with ease.
Playing far out, it is natural that Arnau often comes up against skilful wingers or wide players in La Liga. Many of them have attempted to beat him with their pace but the fullback’s aptitude in reading his rivals’ movement has helped him nullify their threat through well-timed tackles. Averaging 2 tackles p90, the defender manages to win 1.47 of his tackles. An impressive feat in the least.
However, the defender isn’t completely flawless either. Many a time the youngster has struggled to contain his enthusiasm for diving into challenges prematurely and been dribbled past with ease. With time, however, improvement is bound to grace the youngster’s already impressive skillset.
Passing + Creativity:
Under Michel’s supervision, the fullback has progressively improved his vision and passing ability. Supplying his team with a plethora of passes from various areas, he has been crucial in breaking down rigid mid blocks which dominate the Spanish league. On an average, the defender completes 80% of his passes. Given his nature of attempting to constantly penetrate the opposition with his passes, the rate of completion isn’t poor. Furthermore, Arnau also averages 1.07 passes p90 into the penalty area which shows his constant drive forward. He also has completed 16 crosses into the penalty area this season.
Confident in possession, the youngster has also focused on inculcating the principles of becoming a good creator. Aided by his vision, Arnau often looks for the teammate best placed to cause worry to the opposition’s goal irrespective of the difficulty involved in completing the pass. Till date, the attacking fullback has managed to enable 56 Shot creating actions (SCA) while also enabling 5 Goal creating actions (GCA). Collecting 2 assists on the way while creating 5 big chances, Martinez has certainly had a good start to his first league campaign in a division A league.
When isolated wide on the overlap, the U-21 Spanish international has also attempted to infiltrate the penalty area through his dribbling. Averaging 1.7 progressive carries into the final third while complementing it with 0.45 carries into the penalty area p90, Arnau has already earned himself a name as a skilful dribbler with astronomical potential as a fullback. His impressive control in tight areas also helps him draw 2.13 fouls p90 which has benefitted Girona on several occasions.
Shooting & Movement in the final third:
As an offensive fullback, Martinez is often gifted with the opportunity to make his way into the box and take a shot. Shockingly out of 18 shots the youngster has taken till now in the league, only 3 of them have been on target and all of them have resulted in goals. His impulse to occupy areas to make himself available on a rebound or ghosting into areas unmarked make him even more valuable.
With growing interest from sides like Arsenal, Real Madrid, Atletico & Barcelona, Arnau undeniably has displayed the potential of playing for a big club. His strength in defense, his attitude of never giving up & his ability to control the game at a young age certainly make him a strong contender. However, despite showcasing better decision-making in recent months, at 19, Arnau still needs time to grow. A colossal move in the summer might be on charts, but could prove harmful if he’s forced into the limelight as a starter for a big team right away. For the moment, he continues to enjoy a primary role for a Girona he calls home.