Arsenal's Big Problem: Wenger Is Neglecting the Team's No. 1 Position
Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you. - Paul Wilkinson
Is there a harder job on the football field than that of goalkeeper?
As a striker, you can miss an open shot but five minutes later get another opportunity, score a wonder goal, and the earlier fluffed effort is forgotten in a haven of delight.
An outfield player can miss a tackle or misplace a pass, but can count on the nine other players around him to help make up for his mistake.
However, a goalkeeper can't undo the ball nestling in his net.
They can make 10 wonderful saves throughout the game, but if they mess up one, it'll be that one that is remembered, especially if it proves costly and effects the overall outcome.
Hence, this is a role that can't be left to chance. It demands thought and a good choice on who should man the area between the sticks.
Well, generally it does because it seems way down the list of importance at Arsenal FC.
For too long now, Arsene Wenger has taken a chance on the goalkeeping position at the Emirates and for far too long it has backfired on him.
When Jens Lehmann suffered somewhat of a meltdown at the start of the 2007/2008 season, Wenger was quick enough to replace him with Spaniard Manuel Almunia.
Almunia was picked up from Celta Vigo in 2004 as a No. 2 keeper. It was expected he would remain so after the 2007/2008 season was over, with Arsenal fans expecting a new number one to arrive in the summer.
Surprisingly and unsurprisingly, nobody came.
Instead, Jens Lehmann joined Stuttgart, Manuel Almunia became No. 1, and Lukasz Fabianski, who arrived in 2007, would become his understudy.
Pretty much from the beginning Manuel Almunia's proper role was clear to commentators and Arsenal fans: he was and is very decent cover. He is NOT a No. 1 goalkeeper for a top team, certainly not one that has a pretence towards winning Leagues and European trophies.
First of all, he is indecisive.
He is unsure whether to stay on his line or to come and collect. Most often he will stay rooted to the spot.
Secondly, he has no commanding aura about him.
The Buffon's, Kahn's, Casillas' of this world OWN their area. They are like alpha dogs leading their pack. Do as you are told and we will protect what is ours, if intruders arrive they will know that they are somewhere they shouldn't be.
Almunia doesn't have this.
He doesn't shout at his defence nor intimidate the opposition.
The Spaniard isn't a bad goalkeeper, he just isn't very good.
He has good shot stopping ability as illustrated against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season. Against Liverpool, he tipped over brilliantly from Ryan Babel to keep Arsenal's lead intact.
Sadly, this isn't good enough.
Almunia should be doing this week in and week out, not every now and again.
It is widely acknowledged among Arsenal fans that Almunia should be where Fabianski is, sitting on the bench and playing if needed.
Almost pathetically for a club of Arsenal's stature, Fabianski shouldn't be where he is either. He shouldn't even be at the Emirates.
By that, it is not meant he should be sold or should never have been signed but the 23-year-old hasn't the mentality to be a top level goalkeeper.
He may or may not achieve the mentality and ability needed to be a top goalkeeper, but his trail and error time between the sticks should not be spent at Arsenal. He should be out on loan, learning his trade.
Fabianski has all the troubles that plague Almunia.
Instead of him shouting at the defenders, they shout at him. Last evening in the Champions League, Bacary Sagna complained to Fabianski that he needs to shout and come for the ball to clear it as the Frenchman shadowed the ball back to his keeper.
Little did Sagna know that later on, Fabianski's inability to communicate with his defence would lead to Arsenal conceding a comical goal. This was after the Pole had inexplicably steered the ball into his own net after ten minutes from a tame Porto cross.
Fabianski was stuck in no man's land as the ball swung in and what should have been a run of the mill collection ended in embarrassment.
Unlike Almunia who is afraid to come off this line, Fabianski is afraid to stay on it.
Both these goalkeepers who are Arsenal one and two are indecisive, prone to errors, not commanding and don't communicate. Both are also good shot stoppers.
This is not good enough by Wenger.
It's not as if this problem has sprung up overnight. It has been staring him in the face for over two years.
Goalkeeper displays are largely based on confidence. They gain confidence by playing well and also evoke confidence in those in front if they are on form.
Off form and the opposite is true. They fumble crosses, flap at shots and create a sense of panic in their defence.
Sadly, for Arsenal their goalkeepers have been playing like the latter of late.
Arsene Wenger has shown great loyalty to these two players. He has defended their mistakes and, at a bad time, told the world Fabianski is the "new David Seaman."
Almost adversely, he quickly removed third choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone from the bench to the reserves despite the Italian doing well in his short spell between the sticks.
The young Italian gave a Man of the Match display against Fulham earlier in the season and made no mistakes that really stand out.
So it begs the question as to why Wenger replaced him so quickly with Fabianski?
Wenger has a habit of playing players who are out of form in the hope that they find some. Why he dropped a Mannone who came into form quickly is questionable.
This is something that Wenger desperately needs to sort in the summer.
No offence to the following, but when the likes of Birmingham City, Stoke and Portsmouth have a better goalkeeper between the sticks it reflects badly on Arsenal and Wenger.
In time, it is hoped that the great Polish hope Wojciech Szczesny will be Arsenal's number one. The 19-year-old is currently earning rave reviews at Brentford where he is on loan for the rest of the season.
However, Wenger must sort something for next season now.
The fans are getting impatient and by all accounts Cesc Fabregas isn't too pleased by the succession of "schoolboy errors" that are being made.
Almunia needs to be demoted to the bench. If he is unhappy, sell him.
Fabianski needs to go out on loan to a Championship team or one in the SPL to get over his nerves.
In a perfect world, Wenger will do his utmost to sign a Akinfeev, Neuer or Lloris as Arsenal's new number one and have Almunia as back up on the bench.
Whether he does it is another matter.
But he must do something, if only for the sanity of the defenders and fans. Perhaps it'll aid a title challenge along the way.
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