NEWCOMER Emiliano Martinez looks set to be plunged straight into a fierce South Yorkshire derby today as Rotherham United look to secure their Championship safety.
The Arsenal goalkeeper – who has featured in the Champions League for the Gunners this season against German side Borussia Dortmund and Anderlecht, of Belgium – trained with the Millers yesterday before paperwork on a loan move was finalised last night.
And the 22-year-old from Argentina looks likely to get the nod over Millers’ No 1 Adam Collin to play today at New York Stadium for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday.
Martinez is no stranger to South Yorkshire, of course, having played 15 times for the Owls in a similar loan deal for the final six months of last season.
With Rotherham sat just six points ahead of Wigan Athletic – who occupy the final relegation spot – victory against their neighbours today could go a long way to helping secure their safety with just eight games remaining.
Manager Steve Evans – who yesterday also signed Charlton midfielder Lawrie Wilson on loan – believes he pulled off a major coup in tempting Martinez north.
“Our supporters will not need any introduction from me, just type his name in Google and you can see the qualities he has,” said Evans.
“It’s only a couple of months ago that this kid was starring in the Champions League against the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Anderlecht, keeping clean sheets in the Premier League.
“He is so highly regarded at Arsenal. We thank Arsene Wenger for allowing him to come, because he is very close to being first choice, but he has two wonderful players in front of him.
“He’s over 6ft, kicks it the length of the pitch, his distribution is top-class, and he’s a shot-stopper.
“You don’t play in the Champions League, start in the Premier League away at the likes of Stoke City and West Brom, if you’re not going to be the No 1 at Arsenal in the very near future.”
Evans revealed there was no clause in the loan deal which forces Martinez to start every game.
But the Millers’ manager hopes Martinez’s arrival can provide competition for Collin.
“He’s coming to compete for the goalkeeper’s shirt,” said Evans.
“There’s certainly no agreement between us and Arsenal, or Arsene Wenger, that big Eme has to start.
“He will come in and compete with Adam Collin. We have brought goalkeeper after goalkeeper here, and Adam Collin has seen them all away.
“He has a dip in form at times. He had a wee dip earlier in the season and we brought Scott Loach in. Afterwards, Adam was magnificent for a spell, and that happened in previous times, like when he lost his shirt to Scott Shearer.
“I have had a long chat with Adam and he accepts there has probably been a little dip in form from him.
“Normally what happens is when he sits on the bench for a couple of games, he starts producing performances that get noticed.
“I don’t care if your name is Collin or Martinez, our eyes will say who plays.”
Rotherham have an impressive record in Yorkshire derbies since Evans took over in 2012.
One of their finest nights at the NYS came against Wednesday 18 months ago when, as a League One side, they gave the big-city neighbours a footballing lesson in hard graft.
It is a match which is already ingrained into Rotherham’s history, as goals from Ben Pringle and Lee Frecklington – two players who are due to start today – gave the Millers a 2-1 League Cup victory. Rhys McCabe replied for Wednesday, with Jermaine Johnson being sent off late in the contest.
Today is a sell-out at the NYS and Evans is hoping his current crop of players – both teams are hardly recognisable 18 months on – can emulate that August evening.
“There were superb goals from Ben Pringle and Lee Frecklington,” recalled Evans. “It was a fantastic game, we played really well and dominated for long spells.
“That was a big result for us, against a great football club with a great support. Many expectations are on them, given the new ownership. That night, though, was a great win for us. It re-established in everyone’s mind that we were a serious contender to get out of League One when we could beat the likes of Sheffield Wednesday.
“It gave us great encouragement last season, but will have absolutely zilch bearing on what happens at 3pm.”
Jack Hunt is an injury doubt today, so Wilson is set to join Martinez in making his Millers debut.
The 27-year-old has been a long-term target for Evans, who also hopes to add another player before the emergency loans window closes on Thursday.
“We have been looking at someone to play in that right-sided role for a couple of months now,” said Evans. “Someone with the industry, and skilful attributes, that will improve us.
“He’s predominantly a right-sided midfield player. Jack Hunt has a chance of being fit; if he is we will look at our team.
“I have known Lawrie since his non-league days. We have got the option of doing something further (in the summer),” concluded Evans, who has extended the loan deal of Daniel Lafferty until the end of the season.
Wilson said: “I jumped at the chance to come to Rotherham. It’s been hard this year, for Charlton and myself, with new managers coming in and out. Rotherham have given me a chance to make these last eight games count.”