Manuel Almunia: One Mistake Too Many, Time for a Change

Ben CampbellCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05:  Manuel Almunia of Arsenal looks at the ground during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on May 5, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

After the defeat to Manchester United, all of those connected to Arsenal pointed the blame at Mike Dean. Dean's officiating was reminiscent of Titus Bramble's Newcastle career. 

For all of Dean's shortcomings, no-one can deny that Manuel Almunia was just as culpable for Arsenal's first defeat of the season. Both goals were conceded because of Almunia, the penalty he conceded was ridiculous, he should have collected Ryan Giggs weak free kick, and instead he stayed on his line as Arsenal relinquished the lead.

Almunia is a good goalkeeper but he is not world class, over the past two seasons, Almunia has been error-prone. Games against Manchester United, Stoke, Tottenham, Newcastle, Celtic, and Portsmouth are examples. 

Rushing out needlessly happened on two previous occasions, Manchester United 2007-2008 season at the Emirates, against Newcastle Almunia conceded a needless penalty, which was saved but none of the incidents should have occurred.

Angles and positioning are very important aspects of goalkeeping. Donati scored an excellent goal, but the angle was so acute Almunia should have saved the shot. David Bentley caught Almunia off his line; this was another goal that should have been saved. There are more examples of Almunia's errors such as Ronaldo's free kick

Almunia does show glimpses of his ability such as the Champions League games against Roma and Manchester United, where he managed to keep Arsenal in the game. 

Lukasz Fabianski has played in some big games last season, most notably Chelsea, where he gifted Chelsea the win. Psychologically, Fabianaski has been damaged severely, games against Tottenham and Chelsea in the three domestic competitions.

Fabianski is a better shot-stopper than Almunia, he comes off his line far more and is rewarded sometimes. However both keepers tend to cave in, in the big games especially. This may sound harsh but Fabianski's best games for Arsenal are the insignificant ones.

His finest performance was against Liverpool where he kept Arsenal in the game, the result may show he conceded four but Liverpool could have scored seven or eight. However, the game against Chelsea demonstrated his biggest weakness and that is his decision making, Kieran Gibbs came to his rescue but that did not prevent Fabianski being found out, Didier Drogba made sure of that.

Overall Fabianski is a better goalkeeper than Almunia, but Almunia has been able to get away with his mistakes, whenever Fabianski makes a mistake it is highlighted extensively. Fabianski could be a match winner if he would adhere to the basic principles of goalkeeping.

The most worrying aspects about the two goalkeepers is that both are experienced. Fabianski is  only 24 but he is experienced for an understudy.  Almunia concerns me the most, at 32 he continues to make silly mistakes that cost Arsenal, by 32 a goalkeeper should know better than to rush out needlessly.

Both keepers do not command a sense of respect from the opposition, Petr Cech, Julio Cesar or Iker Casillas possess this. Opposition players and coaches know that Almunia and Fabianski are vulnerable, knowing this before a ball is kicked gives the opposition huge mental boost

All is not lost for Arsenal, as Vito Mannone looks as though he could challenge for a first team spot. Although he is young at only 21 his skill set is impressive. The aspects of his game that impresses me the most are his presence and composure, both of these qualities cannot be found in the aforementioned custodians. 

He demonstrated the strength of his game in a 4-1 victory against Stoke where he was confident in collecting crosses, against a team which heavily relies on set-pieces. He did not make any rash decisions and when you consider that this was Mannone's debut, he was impressive.

His talent has not gone unnoticed by Wenger, Mannone was arguably the reserve team's best player last season, by producing numerous match winning displays. Mannone will get his chance to prove himself in the Carling Cup; personally I hope he gets a chance to prove himself in all competitions when appropriate.

When you consider Almunia has been less than convincing and with Fabianski being injured, Mannone has been patient he deserves a chance. Ideally Mannone should have been given more opportunities; however,it will be a tall order to become Arsenal's number one this season.

This is the most crucial season in Arsenal's history and Wenger's career; therefore Wenger might be reluctant in playing Mannone.

This would be a great shame, as I strongly believe a run of games would showcase his quality, and make Wenger re-evaluate the goalkeeping situation at Arsenal.  

Arsenal have shown vast amounts of improvement in the first five games of the season, the defence has not been at fault, the midfield can compete with the best and the attack possess some of the best players in Europe. Arsenal can get away with a decent goalkeeper against the likes of Blackburn, but in the big games they need a great goalkeeper.

Mannone has all the ingredients to become a great goalkeeper for Arsenal and Italy, now Wenger must give the Italian the chance to demonstrate his ability.