Sunday, October 1, 2023

Why Messi must thanks Arsenal and Neal Maupay for his success with Argentina?

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After Argentina won the World Cup on Sunday against France, Neal Maupay may be feeling a little guilty.

Not that the Paris-born Everton striker has ever had a direct impact on his national side, having only featured a youth player, but his world-class provocation may come back to bite his derrière.

A lot has changed since Maupay’s stoppage time winner as Brighton beat Arsenal 2-1 in June 2020, but it’s fair to say that without that first domino falling, Lionel Messi might not have his second shot at a World Cup.

Not only have fans returned since that behind-closed-doors game to provide a vastly different football experience, but Arsenal have clearly emerged from what was dubbed their ‘banter-era’ to top the Premier League.

Back then, just over two years ago, the likes of Matteo Guendouzi, Sead Kolasinac and Shkodran Mustafi were all still proving to be liabilities as Mikel Arteta attempted a rebuild.

And to compound their misery, Maupay had the Gunners wrapped around his little finger after scoring a late winner in their previous meeting at the Emirates.

On this occasion, though, it wasn’t just the goals that made him enemy No.1 in north London, but also his digs while pressing from the front saw Bernd Leno leave the pitch on a stretcher.

Challenging the German for a high ball, without any intention of ever getting it, Maupay’s intervention made sure Leno was taken out of the game from a nasty fall in the 40th minute.

Goals from Nicolas Pepe and Lewis Dunk followed before the Frenchman’s late winner, which was greeted by Guendouzi throttling him and a shoving match at full-time.

Maupay had the last laugh with the three points, but inadvertently awoke a monster.

You wouldn’t have known it as Emi Martinez was culpable for both of the Seagulls’ comeback goals on the day, but the Argentine built upon that game to a frightening degree.

After an Arsenal career that consisted almost exclusively of loans from 2011 to 2019, even all the way down with Oxford in League Two, Martinez finally had his chance with the Gunners, and grasped it.

The shot stopper went on to make 23 appearances that season, far more than the total of his previous eight years combined, and was left in tears as his heroics saw the Gunners claim the FA Cup to end the campaign, with Martinez proving crucial as he brought home the first major trophy of his career.

So good were his displays that Martinez earned a £20million move to Aston Villa in the following months, and as he continued to impress, caught the attention of his country.

Argentina’s tournament performances for much of the modern era have been dogged by goalkeepers nowhere near the level of their world-class attack, but now they have one.

Martinez has been key in helping his side to the win the World Cup in Qatar, and was an absolute monster as he filled the net in a quarter-final shoot-out win over the Netherlands and France.


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