Ever since he was thrown in to the lion’s den against Ch*vski at Highbury a few years ago, flapping his way to gifting the visitors a point in a game we should have won, I have had my doubts about Manuel Almunia.
Would Jens Lehmann have let in the two goals that cost us the Champions League final in Paris two years ago? Who knows – and let’s not forget that if Jens Lehmann hadn’t got himself deservedly sent off, we wouldn’t have had to ask the question.
Arsène Wenger said at the weekend that the days of having towering, lumbering centre-halves is over because of the speed and demands of the modern game.
I can see what he means, but Mikael Silvestre has probably kept his place in the first team because he is not afraid to get the ball out of danger if the situation requires it, rather than play a pass which may not actually ease the pressure.
In the absence of a defence of giants (or in midfield for that matter), having a commanding goalkeeper is vital...
T*tt*nh*m apart, Almunia’s shot-stopping is of a decent quality, but his decision making and confidence leave something to be desired. A top class goalkeeper wouldn't have panicked in the first minute against the reigning Champions as he did last Saturday, gifting M*nure an indirect free kick for picing the ball up.
Rather than assert himself, come for crosses and actually make the required catches, he has an aura of someone who is not altogether certain of his own abilities and that rubs off on his team-mates.
Petr Cech, Edwin Van Der Sar and Pepe Reina may not be perfect (although how Wenger must rue not being able to sign Cech when he had the chance a few years ago, hindered by red tape and work permit issues) but they exude a confidence which transmits to the entire team.
I’m not saying that Almunia could have prevented defeat against Stoke a couple of weeks ago, but a more experienced and assertive goalkeeper may have been able to deal with the long throws more effectively.
Because his opportunity at a high level never came in Spain, perhaps Almunia lacks the experience to truly establish himself at Arsenal in the long term.
Some say that we should have an established international goalkeeper, but I don’t think it’s about the number of caps you have. Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould didn’t feature as much for England as their performances and consistency suggests they should have done, after all.
By comparison, Lukasz Fabianski already has a wealth of top class experience behind him. A regular at Under-21 level and with almost a dozen senior appearances for Poland, he also helped Legia Warsaw win the Polish title before moving to London.
Wenger said yesterday: “He is pushing very hard. I know Manuel Almunia is a great competitor with Fabianski, he would be the first to acknowledge that. Every time Fabianski has an opportunity to play he does very well.”
With my continuing doubts about Almunia, I’ve kept a keen eye on Fabianski’s performances.
With the exception of not coming for one through-ball that he could have reached against Fenerbahce (and then pulling off a fine finger-tip save from the resulting shot), he looked far more authoritative last week in the Champions League.
And when he was thrown into the cauldron against M*nure, he had the confidence and bravery to go for crosses and make them which I don’t think Almunia does consistently. It’s fair to say he had no chance with the United goal, but I’m sure the players would feel more relaxed and confident with the Pole behind them.
Tonight, Fabianski is captain and against a striker in the form Amr Zaki has shown lately, his mettle will be tested again.
For the long-term future of Arsenal, I hope shows his quality again and convinces Wenger that he deserves to establish himself as our Number One before the season is much older.