Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has insisted that new £20 million signing Emiliano Martinez is not guaranteed a starting spot, ahead of their first Premier League game of the league campaign against Sheffield United on Monday.

The Argentine ‘keeper signed a four-year contract with the Midlands outfit on Wednesday, having left Arsenal after almost ten years at the north London side.

Martínez was seen to be the immediate replacement for Tom Heaton, who has been out since The Villans’ win at Burnley on New Year’s Day, suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

‘Earn the shirt’

The side take on The Blades for their first league game on Monday, having had their initial opening-day fixture against Manchester City postponed, due to City’s Champions League exploits.

The 31 year-old is in contention to start on what could be his Villa debut, and Smith expressed his delight in landing the ‘keeper, but also suggested that he would only start based on merit.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Smith said, “He has to go and earn the shirt – all the players know that.

“You don’t get many opportunities to get a goalkeeper of his calibre at this stage of his career.”

Arsenal v Aston Villa: Pre-Season Friendly
Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Martínez is match-fit

Martínez kept nine clean sheets in 22 starts for Arsenal across all competitions last season and was in goal for The Gunners in their defeat to Villa on the penultimate match day of last campaign’s league season.

The Argentine was also involved for Mikel Arteta‘s men in a non-competitive pre-season fixture against Villa behind closed-doors at the Emirates Stadium on September 5, a match that Smith’s side won 3-2.

He was also between the sticks in Arsenal’s Community Shield victory on penalties over Liverpool and the FA Cup triumph over Chelsea, a factor that could potentially see him start at Villa Park, having played more games than The Bears’ other shot-stoppers, post-season.

“He’s ready to play, whether he’s our automatic number one depends on what he does in training and matches.

“He played against us a couple of weeks ago for Arsenal, so we know he’s ready to play.”

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