It was hard to find a single player that didn’t have a good match for Bayern Munich in their 3-1 win at the Emirates, but some would find it fair to say that the presence and display of Javi Martinez at the defensive midfield was one of the biggest keys that allowed Bayern to dominate and win so easily, probably setting up qualification before the second leg.
Martinez cost Bayern €40 million during the summer; that’s the price you have to pay to get out of Athletic Bilbao these days. Fernando Llorente couldn’t find anyone to pay that kind of money for him, so he has to waste an entire season before leaving on a free transfer. But Llorente is only a good striker. Martinez is a great midfielder, who can play as a centre back as well.
The key to Bayern not conceding a goal in the six matches leading up to their win over Arsenal and only 7 times in the Bundesliga this season isn’t about one man – Manuel Neuer is incredibly hard to beat when focused; The Bayern defense, even with missing players, is excellent, from Lahm on the wing to Dante and whoever plays next to him in the middle. But the midfield and the arrival of Martinez seems to be the real difference maker.
Martinez playing finally showed everyone why Toni Kroos is such a great potential. When Kroos doesn’t need to play in the middle, next to Bastian Schweinsteiger, everything is much clearer. He doesn’t need to chase player – only show his passing and shooting skills, scoring the opener at the Emirates. Martinez doesn’t mind don’t the dirty work Kroos wasn’t so good at last season.
Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla hardly showed up for over a half. That’s Martinez. Not alone, but a lot of it. There’s a reason Bayern Munich’s pressure on the Arsenal defense works so well. It’s having a defensive midfielder who doesn’t need too many players next to him to take care of a mobile attacking midfielder.
Martinez spent the last couple of seasons at Bilbao as a centre back, but there’s no doubt that his real strength is a bit further up the pitch. His style and role might hurt him when it comes to the Spanish national team, but it’s hard to find too many players in European football doing this specific job better than Martinez, possibly being the piece that turned Bayern into an even better side than they were last season.