Almunia Out; Who's Next for Arsenal?
Mr. Ed look-alike Manuel Almunia must go.
I don't feel inclined at present to elaborate on the reasons for his abject inadequacy. That, perhaps, is a conversation for a less bitter afternoon.
What are the most interesting short and long-term options for providing the stability and dependability between the posts that Arsenal so clearly lacked this season?
The In-House Route
Though Wenger did the right thing in publicly backing up Fabianski after his dismal performance against Porto, he has to realize that Fabianski is not first team-ready when his two most notable appearances are the Dragão debacle and the 5-1 drubbing against Spurs in the Carling Cup semifinal two seasons ago.
Vito Mannone looked very good in September, with clean sheets against Olympiakos, Wigan, and at Fulham. Though his star waned in the following months, he has the height, strength, and instincts to become a solid Premiership goalkeeper in a few years.
As of yet, he is unproven and unready to make 50 or more starts per season for a club of Arsenal's stature. Though an unlikely move–and one which I would not endorse because of the defeatist signal it sends–perhaps playing the rest of the Premiership season would be a good test of Mannone's readiness.
Playing the Market
This off-season should be a bull market for top clubs in search of young goalkeeping talent. Will Arsenal choose to invest?
Igor Akinfeev is the holy grail of goalkeeping prospects: agile, confident, and already experienced. A Rossiyski vratar in the lofty mould of Lev Yashin, the CSKA netminder has made over 180 Russian Premier League appearances since 2003, and has started forty matches for the Russian national team. All this, and he's not even 24.
Elusive as the grail, however, Akinfeev is is an unlikely target for Arsenal. His is the biggest name out there right now among young keepers, which bodes ill for starstruck Arsenal fans--the astronomical transfer fee he is sure to command will far exceed what the subtle and thrifty Wenger would willingly pay.
Closer to Home
In limited appearances since returning from his arm break, Sunderland's Craig Gordon has been sharp, and looks to be one of the hottest transfer targets of the summer.
He is a young keeper with loads of ability and great height. Wenger is on record praising Gordon, which doesn't necessarily signify serious interest, though it is encouraging.
It bears mentioning that Gordon has so far played for smaller clubs and for a national team that seldom reaches the latter stages of international competitions.
His suitability for top flight football necessarily remains a question mark, but his strong performances against England's premier clubs this season (including a home shutout win over Liverpool and an away draw at Manchester United) would suggest his readiness.
Still, a hefty transfer fee would be necessary after the Black Cats spent £9 million in acquiring him, and Arsene Wenger may be more inclined to stick with his current options than to splurge on an eight figure goalkeeper.
I like FC Schalke's Manuel Neuer.
The 24 year-old birthday boy (as of the writing of this article) possesses ideal height at 6'4" and is on contract in Gelsenkirchen until 2012. On Bayern Munich's radar for some time, he should command at least an £11 of 12 million transfer fee, but he would be well-worth the price.
Neuer, who idolizes former Schalke and Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann, was named the Bundesliga's best goalkeeper of 2007, and played every minute of the 2007-2008 campaign.
He hasn't seen Champion's league action since '07-'08, when Schalke lost to Barça in the quarterfinal 2-0 on aggregate, but young Neuer showed himself capable of stopping shots at the highest level of European play.
Memo to Arsenal
Over the past decade, the long-time stigma against playing in Europe has begun to lift for many of Mexico's most talented players (due in part, no doubt, to increasing anxiety over the growing competitiveness of their northern neighbors).
With that in mind, a relatively inexpensive transfer for Club America's Guillermo Ochoa, who has shown openness to an EPL move, might be a good move.
Here's a link to a bombastically titled video, Guillermo Ochoa, World's Best Goalkeeper: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHolIsV0ZGg&feature=player_embedded#.
Nice music selection...I challenge all readers to watch it without dipping their shoulders and swinging their hips as much as their chairs allow. Really, though, this reel highlights some of the "how-on-earth-did-he-do-that?" ability that has often made up for some startling defensive dunderheadedness by las Águilas.
Memo Ochoa, I think, has the quality to play at a very high level. He is perhaps slightly smaller than ideal height (just a hair over 6 ft.), but makes up for it with remarkable speed and agility.
Despite having played for so long in an inferior domestic league, Ochoa is talented, experienced and mature. Since becoming a professional at the age of 18, he has appeared almost 200 times for Club America and over thirty times for El Tri.
The World Cup will be his opportunity to showcase his abilities on the world stage–especially with a favorable Mexican draw in the group stage–and with his current contract at America expiring after the 2010/11 season, this summer may be the time to let his intentions be known.
Could Ashburton Grove be his destination?