No Mark Schwarzer for Arsenal: What Now for Gunners' Goalkeeping Situation?

Hamlet AbayaCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2010

NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 23:  Mark Schwarzer of Australia celebrates Brett Holman scoring his side's second goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group D match between Australia and Serbia at Mbombela Stadium on June 23, 2010 in Nelspruit, South Africa.  (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

With the transfer window well and fully shut, and with one name conspicuously missing, Arsene Wenger appears to have a big task on his shoulders.

Even as the end of the transfer window was nearing, it appeared Schwarzer would end up at Arsenal. 

According to The Mirror, he claimed, "I'm biding my time waiting for things to happen and then I'll be on move - if you see what I mean," later adding, "I'm hopeful, I'm always hopeful."  

After all, at 37, this was his last chance to join a Top-4 side and experience legitimate Champions League football.    

But with news of Fulham rejecting Arsenal's last minute £4 million bid for goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer filtering out, the reality that he is staying with Fulham has set in, and the Gunners have to make do with what they have.

In short,that means that Wenger has only has the same players from last year to pick from for the number one spot.  With four goalkeepers, there is no lack of quantity in the position. The question is one of quality and experience. 

after watching Arsenal's goalkeepers and the title campaign, collapse under pressure last season, supporters saw a severe lack of quality and experience in the goalkeeping position and desperately yearned for a signing.

But with Fulham No. 2 and England hopeful Stockdale out injured for a few months, Shay Given staying at Manchester City, and with no realistic replacements available, Mark Hughes did the right thing for Fulham and refused to sell Schwarzer to Arsenal.  Though it may upset many a gooner, the fact is Hughes did what he did for the well-being of his club. 

So now that Schwarzer's out, who should take be first-choice?  

Manuel Almunia     

Almunia has performed admirably, even amazingly in spurts during the last three seasons.  He is a solid shot stopper with relatively quick reactions.  He has made numerous penalty saves, and his performance during the first half of the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final fixture against Barcelona was a sight to behold. 

If nothing else, he was the best option available once Lehmann left. 

But his problems revolve around the other aspects of his game, the five “C”s:  Command of the box, Claiming of crosses and corners, Coming out too early, Confidence and Consistency. 

Unlike his more highly regarded “Big 4” contemporaries Peter Cech, Edwin Van Der Sar, and Pepe Reina, Almunia is not a commanding ‘keeper.  He rarely directs his defense, fails to properly instruct them, and unlike ‘Mad’ Jens, he does not give them hell when they make a mistake. 

Unfortunately, this failing is magnified tenfold because he rarely claims crosses and corner kicks, instead relying on his defense to head the ball out or keep opposing strikers in check. 

On the bright side, it allows him to use his quick reflexes to react off the line, and it allows him to focus most of his attention on the flight of the ball.  On the down side, he gets beaten when these crosses and corners find an opposing player’s head or foot. 

The irony is that while he elects to stay on his line when crosses fly into the box, he rushes out of his box early and often, inviting opposing strikers to lob the ball over him and take advantage of this flaw in his game.

Worse yet, given Arsenal fans’ penchant for criticizing underperforming players, and the string of high-profile gaffes he committed especially towards the end of last season, Almunia was understandably under an immense amount of pressure.  In fact, with murmurs of a possible Schwarzer signing floating about, he commented that "it is so difficult [to concentrate]," because "Arsenal is a big club and speculation is always in the news and everywhere."

Finally, although Almunia can be brilliant at times, he lacks the consistency needed in top 'keepers.  One example of this is the fact that Almunia fails to cover the near post time and time again.  Every goalkeeper in the world is taught early on to cover the near post and force strikers to shoot further away at the far post and increase their chances of missing.  But it seems that Almunia missed that lesson. 

Lukasz Fabianski

One for the future, Fabianski is the 'keeper that Wenger has defended through thick and thin, and whose future was once "the next great goalkeeper".  But like Almunia, when Fabianski was awarded the starting role towards the end of last season, he performed atrociously.

He was responsible for a string of absolutely incredible high-profile mistakes and has shown little during the pre-season to change that opinion.  In fact, many sections of the media as well as Arsenal supporters have called him "Flappianski" after his flap on a seemingly routine corner kick catch against Blackburn last season cost Arsenal and goal and the game.

He too suffered from a crisis of confidence, often looking like a dejected schoolboy right after conceding a goal. 

Unfortunately, that trait is symptomatic of why he can never excel in goal.  Goalkeepers need short memories and a cocky attitude, both attributes that are missing in Fabianski.  He lingers on the goals he concedes, and never seems to recover.  Until I see otherwise, I cannot imagine him as Arsenal’s No. 1. 

Vito Mannone

Some gooners already think that Mannone should be Arsenal’s number one. 

After all, the one thing the 22-year-old Italian youngster has over his older teammates is confidence in abundance.  While both Almunia and Fabianski are prone to mental lapses and appear fragile, he is confident in himself and his ability. 

While both were unavailable last season, Mannone manned the posts admirably, with his clutch saves allowing him to keep his place for a few extra weeks.  At Craven Cottage, Mannone made a string of saves to deny Fulham time and time again.  Even the casual observer could see that he has potential.

But against Standard Liege in the Champions League, his mistakes cost the team early, putting them in a 2-0 hole before his teammates clawed their way back to record a 3-2 victory.

What those series of games did was improve his self-confidence and demonstrate to the world the potential that he holds.  But it also served as a notice to how much he still has to learn. 

However, with such a small sample size, it is impossible to know whether he’s the real deal.  And throwing him into the fire – the English Premier League – this early could stifle his growth and Arsenal’s ambitions instead of nurture him.    

Wojciech Szczęsny

Wojciech Szczęsny, or “Chesney” for those of us who cannot pronounce or spell his name properly, has been touted by many, even Wenger, as Arsenal’s future No. 1.  He is tall, strong, has quick reflexes, learns from his mistakes, and is confident to a fault. 

His loan spell at League One outfit Brentford last season was the first real test of his capabilities against seasoned professionals in a very competitive league, and he passed with flying colors, earning plaudits and praise from pundits and Brentford supporters alike.   

He’s been given a chance to shine during the pre-season but has rarely been tested. 

During the one game where he conceded, the 6-5 goal thriller against Legia Warsaw, Szczęsny showed glimpses of genius, especially with his last gasp save preventing a 6-6 draw.  But for whatever reason, the defending that night was atrocious, and both Fabianski and Szczęsny conceded pretty bad goals.  During one of those goals, Szczęsny jumped up to make himself bigger and in doing so, allowed Iwanski to slip the ball underneath him. 

Already many Arsenal fans consider him the future of Arsenal, much like Iker Casillas became the future of Real Madrid.  With tons of talent, and a desire to work hard and improve, Szczęsny looks very promising. 

But despite his messianic reputation, he is still too inexperienced to be Arsenal’s savior, at least for this season.


Usually, when there are so many choices, a manager has a good problem.  But if the choices are between two confident and hungry young upstarts with very little experience, a once-promising talent seemingly lacking in confidence and ability, and a seasoned veteran prone to major gaffes, then it becomes clear that it is not an ideal situation.  No matter who is chosen, there will be glaring problems in his game. 

So with that in mind, who should be No. 1?

Without a doubt, at this point in time, Almunia deserves the No. 1 spot.  Yes, he is prone to the odd error against the bigger teams, and yes, he is not great against crosses.  And no, he won’t win Arsenal the English Premier League or Champions League.  But right now, he is the best choice to lead Arsenal to another Top-4 finish.   

I don’t think Fabianski will ever overcome his fragile mentality, but Mannone and especially Szczęsny should one day challenge for the No.1 spot and win it.  But they would be better served perfecting their trade in trial-by-fire loans elsewhere, where they would face a constant barrage of shots from opposing players. 

When they are finally ready to join the first team and compete for the No. 1 jersey, other young players will have matured, and Arsenal as a team should also be ready to compete against the elite for trophies.    




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