Manuel Almunia Scapegoat As Arsenal's Lack of Killer Instinct Laid Bare

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Manuel Almunia Scapegoat As Arsenal's Lack of Killer Instinct Laid Bare
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Manuel Almunia has been vilified by Arsenal fans as the primary reason that they did not collect the three points in their away trip to Birmingham's St Andrews ground.

While watching the unfortunate events surrounding the conceding of the goal, you could point to the keeper as being culpable, though it must also be said that his attackers had squandered several chances in the minutes after they went ahead and several other chances before Samir Nasri's excellent goal.

In the first half, Theo Walcott inexplicably made a rather casual attempt at scoring by kicking it straight at the keeper, when he could have easily gone around him and played the ball into an empty net.

Almunia has provided Arsenal with the scapegoat they needed, so that questions as to why their attackers were so lacking in composure, particularly when another goal would have sealed the match and really killed Birmingham off so late in the game, were put to the back of the mind.

In the period after Nasri's goal, there were golden opportunities had by Arshavin and Nasri, two players who had come off the bench and were not only fresher, but you would think more hungry to make a contribution in light of the limited time in which they had to make a sound contribution.

Nasri had arguably made his contribution in a rather telling fashion, though the manner in which he tried to square the ball after being put through by Fabregas was rather odd, when he wasted a great opportunity to put Arsenal two up.

Before this moment, there had also been an excellent opportunity for Arshavin, when he was seen to mishit the ball about eight yards out, in a moment where it would seem the Russian superstar should never have missed. Did he panic? Was it mentioned in the aftermath?

No it was not, instead all the derision and anger was directed at Almunia, who truth be told was extremely unlucky in what happened, when Kevin Phillips got in front of the defenders and diverted the ball in its flight path.

The chance itself was a result of some rather casual Arsenal defending in the wake of a Birmingham free kick on the halfway line. Half-hearted attempts at headed clearances were made by a side that thought they had already got the three points. How wrong they were.

Not only that, but when the ball came into the box, the goal keeper had no protection in front of him and Phillips was somehow allowed to nip in front of the defenders and divert the flight of the ball. This moment was key in making Almunia look a lot worse than he was.

The ball was actually flying to where he was positioned, the trajectory was such that he would have caught it at his chest.

However, the defenders in front of him let him down in letting Phillips bully his way through and get a touch, sending the ball on a slight deviation which was enough to totally deceive Almunia and leave him looking quite the fool.

Others would say that a good keeper would not make this mistake, but it is impossible to point at incidents like this and say that another keeper would have done differently.

Almunia was the scapegoat though, and there have been more calls for his head.

The real blame in this matter should be settled squarely on the shoulders of the attackers who wasted such golden opportunities at the other end and the defensive unit that did not adequately protect their goalkeeper. Goalkeeping is really the toughest position in football. Almunia has once again been singled out for a mistake when he should never have been in such a position.

His teammates failed to capitalise on the fatigue of the Birmingham side, and really drive the point home that they are serious contenders for the title, in the period directly after Nasri had seized the initiative.

Almunia is not the reason that they drew this game. The reason they drew is that they do not have the killer instinct that sides like Chelsea and Manchester United do.

Tippy-tappy football does look nice and wows audiences everywhere. Rarely, however, does it end up decimating sides with the brutality and efficiency that are sometimes seen from the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

Arsenal may have lost ground, and now they will find it hard to make up.

The blame rests squarely on the team, however, and not any individual players. Birmingham were down for the count in the minutes after the goal and the killer blow could have been struck three or four times. It was not, though, and credit must go to Alex McLeish's side for pushing for the equaliser until the final whistle.

It is time for Arsenal fans to look beyond the obvious, however. It is always easy to blame a goal keeper in situations such as this. But if you properly analyze the team's performance, you are able to see that there are several reasons two points were lost.

Almunia only appears the most to blame because he is the last man between the ball and the net.

But as the old saying goes, the ball came through ten other players before it reached the goal keeper.

On top of that, two of the players it came through had spurned glorious chances to score, making any slip up so much more costly and possibly destroying Arsenal's title tilt for good.

 

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