Yep, that gormless-looking bloke in the photo was Shay Given's replacement on Saturday, the first Faroese (from the Faroe Islands) goalkeeper to grace the Premier League—Gunnar Nielsen. He looks like he's never seen 60,000 people who have never seen him before. Both are of course true.
On Saturday afternoon, a rather dull game between Arsenal and Manchester City ended in 0-0, but the Blues felt like they had lost 1-0 as their talismanic Irish goalkeeper Shay Given suffered a dislocated shoulder, and was stretchered off the field to the sound of respectful applause from the Arsenal fans.
The ironically-named Gunnar Nielsen made his Premier League debut against the Gunners on Saturday as Given's replacement. Previously, he was at Blackburn Rovers, but made no appearances in the two years he had there.
As a disclaimer for whatever I may say in my future sentences during this article, I'll say the following first of all. I think Shay Given is a top goalkeeper, one of the best shot-stoppers in the League for a while, and I wish him a speedy recovery for City's sake from what must be an unbearable injury.
The question I raise to you, the reader(s), is 'With the loss of Shay Given for the remainder of the season, have City's chances of finishing in the top-four been severely hampered?'
Taking everything on face value, the answer would be 'Yes.' Gunnar Nielsen has only had eleven League appearances in all six years of his professional career. A lack of experience in these terms would seem obvious, especially compared to Given, who has years of consistent appearances for Newcastle United and Manchester City behind him. Nielsen is City's only option as their 'number one number two.' Stuart Taylor is also injured, and Joe Hart is still contractually tied to Birmingham on loan.
Any uncertainty about Nielsen's capabilities will come to light in the next two weeks. The three fixtures which City have will not be the easiest for them. Complacency needs to receive a touchline-ban both at home and away.
Nielsen will have to start watching some footage of his teammate Given to prepare for the fixtures ahead. This upcoming Saturday, while fellow top-four competitors Tottenham Hotspur have a more palatable fixture at home against Bolton Wanderers, City will be hosting Aston Villa, who recently surprised themselves by controversially defeating arch-rivals Birmingham City thanks to a penalty, and found themselves level on points with Spurs. However, City have a game in hand and so a win would take them to at least 5th place, overtaking Villa and maybe into 4th if Spurs draw or lose to Bolton.
The crunchtime return fixture against Spurs at Eastlands will presumably test both communication between Nielsen and the defenders and Nielsen himself. One solitary appearance halfway through a match does not say enough about him, but a match against a fierce rival for 4th place certainly will. The Blues just couldn't get things moving against Spurs in December, so they will look for redemption. Nielsen could play a very big part in it, and even become a hero overnight. All he needs to do is keep a cool-head and do it for Shay. First impressions are rather important.
The last week of the season sees City taking a trip to Upton Park where West Ham will be waiting. The Hammers may be six points clear of the drop zone, but they still look to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for a place in next year's premiership season. Gianfranco Zola's team are dangling just above relegated Burnley and Portsmouth, as are Hull City. West Ham will be looking for an impressive win against City to simply give them a confidence boost for next season.
Shay Given's shot-stopping ability has been second-to-none all season, and would've definitely aided City all the way to the last week of the season to possibly squeeze them into 4th place past Tottenham Hotspur. Given's injury has just been a bad case of misfortune; something which nobody would've expected unless it was a 'blue moon.' City's chances at 4th spot might have been hampered, but not completely dead by any means. The ball's in your six-yard box, Mr. Nielsen. Welcome to the intensely stormy competition we call the English Premier League!