Er… the goal’s over there Manuel.
“At the moment it is better for me not to talk about [signing a goalkeeper] because it doesn’t help the keepers who play for us, so it is better that we focus on the goalkeepers we have. I believe Almunia had a good game today.” – Arsene Wenger (Arsenal.com)
Manuel Almunia actually didn’t have the worst match he’s ever had for Arsenal, but still managed to demonstrate in the first match of the season exactly why Arsenal need a new goalkeeper.
Liverpool had four shots on target against the Gunners at Anfield. Almunia saved two – a Glen Johnson shot from the edge of the area, and a Steven Gerrard free kick at the end of the match.
He had Gael Clichy to thank for clearing a David Ngog header off the line, and was beaten at his near post by the Liverpool striker for the goal. It is a goal that a top level ‘keeper should not concede, but Arsenal fans are used to questionable goalkeeping.
Almunia’s performance – like that of his opposite number Pepe Reina – will be remembered for the goal he let in, but it was not the only worrisome aspect of his performance.
Equally puzzling after yet another unconvincing display from an Arsenal goalkeeper is the unrelenting faith Arsene Wenger seems to have in his options. I am a firm believer in the Arsenal model of bringing through young players, but Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski have been given countless chances at the top level – and rarely proven themselves up to the task. There remains the odd brilliant performance – Almunia was excellent against Barcelona in last season’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final for example – but they are few and far between.
Reina’s error was a rare one for someone usually so reliable and commanding in goal. Almunia played in the panic stricken fashion that has typified his stint in the Arsenal goal, as shown by his flap at a corner after 33 minutes with no one around him. His defenders’ lack of confidence in him is clear – and the same goes for Fabianski.
This is precisely why I believe either Mark Schwarzer or Joe Hart is a better option for Arsenal than Shay Given. Schwarzer and Hart are vocal men at the back – and strong organisers of their defensive line. Arsenal fan Hart’s selection in the Manchester City goal against Tottenham Hotspur was not just exemplified by his spectacular saves, but equally by his domination of his penalty area. While somewhat amusing, his angry kick up the backside of his defender Kolo Touré for getting in his way was encouraging – not least from an England fan’s perspective – and he has clearly come on in leaps and bounds since his loan move to Birmingham last season.
This is the one weak point of Shay Given’s game. The Irishman is a wonderful goalkeeper, with astonishing catlike reflexes, but he struggles to keep his defence in order. This is emphasised by his stints in goal at Newcastle and Manchester City last season. Perhaps he wouldn’t spend so much time on the highlights reel for both his incredible saves and picking the ball out the back of the net if his defenders were helped with instruction throughout a match.
The prospective capture of Schwarzer would be perfect for Arsenal, because although the Australian is a veteran at 37 years of age, he is still in peak form and condition. Should he become the Gunners’ number one for the next two to three seasons, it would give time for the promising young Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szcz?sny to gain the necessary experience to take over. Schwarzer would also make an perfect mentor for the Pole as he continues to develop.
With Cesc Fabregas committed to the club for at least another season, one signing could make all the difference to Arsenal’s title prospects. With a quality goalkeeper I would back them to compete until the end of the season in every competition. Without one I envisage a season like the last – with the long wait for a trophy continuing.