Arsenal Goalkeeping Options for 2010-11 Season
With the transfer window closed and the majority of players off on international duty with their clubs, it leaves very little for daily bloggers to write about. Luckily for me, I decided to hold my season preview back until the transfer window closed just in case Arsenal managed to sign the players that we hoped they would.
As it worked out, there were no spectacular last minute deals or surprise loan signings to bolster the squad but we did at least sign Sebastien Squillaci since the start of the season, so I wasn't completely wrong in waiting until now for that preview.
The best place to start is at the back and with the goalkeepers in particular. The boss described them as four top-quality goalkeepers, but after giving each of Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone, and Szczesny some game time in the preseason and stating that we had no No. 1 at the club, he chose to continue with Almunia as our first choice custodian.
It would appear that he was interested in bringing in Fulham's Mark Schwarzer, but Fulham decided not to sell—as is their right—and we were also keeping a watchful eye on Ajax's Champions League progress with a view to bidding for Stekelenburg if they failed to make it to the group stages. However, they managed to squeeze past Dynamo Kiev last week with Stekelenburg the star of the show on the night.
Almunia dislodged Lehmann from the team a few years ago, and although I have never been a fan of his he did have a couple of fairly good seasons to start with. However, last season things took a serious turn for the worse and he was twice out for a number of weeks due to "illness" when it seemed clear other factors were behind it.
Which goalkeeper should be Arsenal's first choice?
I can remember on a few occasions that Gallas tried to shepherd the ball back to him and he simply refused to come off his line and take it. Toward the end of the season he had another "injury" or "illness," but at the time I thought the boss was giving Fabianski his chance to show what he could do as our chances of winning a trophy had disappeared at that stage.
We all remember at the time how poorly Fabianski played and we realised that Almunia wasn't as bad as we had thought in comparison to him.
In the preseason game away to Legia, Fabianski again reminded us of how error-prone he is when he made a complete mess of a corner and lay on the ground appealing to the referee for a foul that had not happened as Legia scored from that corner. I think that was when the boss made up his mind to go with Almunia this season as he knew Fabianski was not ready.
His high-profile errors in the away defeat to Porto in the Champions League were so bad as to be almost unbelievable and when he got another chance against Stoke in the FA Cup he again as good as handed them their first goal as we went on to lose 3-1. He is so easy to intimidate at corners and set pieces that the opposition have no choice but to do it.
If you look at his face when he is waiting for a corner to come into the box with a man standing in front of him, he looks set to cry at any moment, in my opinion, and I can't see how he can improve on that situation without first-team football somewhere.
Mannone performed very well when he filled for the injured duo of Almunia and Fabianski last season, and his performance at Fulham in particular was outstanding. In a match that we should have lost, judging by our poor performance, he performed heroics and we ran out 1-0 winners against the odds.
Unfortunately, he made a bad mistake against West Ham when he pushed a free kick back into the goalmouth rather than out towards the sideline and we blew a two goal lead to eventually draw 2-2. It wasn't the worst mistake I've seen and nowhere near as bad as some of the ones that Fabianski has committed, but he soon disappeared as the other two goalkeepers regained fitness.
Szczesny spent the season on loan at Brentford and by all accounts he was outstanding. He apparently has all the attributes that are needed to become a truly top-class keeper and the only thing counting against him at the moment is his age and lack of experience.
In the chances that he got in preseason he did nothing wrong that I could see, and I would certainly have him on the bench as our reserve keeper ahead of Fabianski. It would seem that either Mannone or Szczesny will go out on loan to a Championship side this season and I think the experience would be very good for either of them.
To sum up, I think that Szczesny has all we want in a keeper but the boss wants to wait a year or two before putting him into the first team.
Mannone is a good keeper, but again he needs experience and Szczesny would seem to be rated above him.
Fabianski is a disaster waiting to happen and we should dispose of him at the earliest opportunity on loan or permanently.
And Almunia will be our first choice for the season unless he gets injured or has a very poor run of form.
In my opinion, Almunia is a good shot-stopper but a lot of his other goalkeeping qualities leave a lot to be desired. He is dodgy to say the least on crosses, he doesn't control his penalty area, his decision-making is poor and his kicking game is below standard.
How often do you see him kick the ball from his hands straight to the opposition or fly kick it out of play with very little pressure on him? I know we try to play the ball out from the back but there are times where every keeper needs to kick the ball and he is particularly poor at it.
I'm hoping that Almunia will regain the form of the two seasons before last season when he was an average Premier league goalkeeper as that is probably the most we can expect from him.
He remains as our vice captain no matter what reservations we might have about how he plays and as he is our first choice he will have my support of course but I can still have those reservations about him and his place in our team. The keeper I thought we should have signed was Portugese stopper Eduardo, but he was sold to some Italian club during the summer without Arsenal even showing an interest.
Nasri Back in Training
Arsenal suffered from a terrible run of injuries last season and so far this season we have Bendtner out until October after an initial diagnosis of a week or so in July, and of course we won't see Ramsey before November after his shocking injury last season.
When RVP got injured last Saturday, I feared the worst again and there is still no concrete return date for him, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Samir Nasri is back in training and on schedule to return within the four week initial timetable we were given when he picked up the injury in the first game of the season.
The club revealed its squad for the current season under the new Premier League regulations yesterday. It has 13 foreign players, seven players who qualify as homegrown, and a host of under-21 players. That means that four more foreign players and one homegrown player can be added in the transfer window in January, and we have of course included quite a few first team squad members in the under-21 section.
Among them are Gibbs, Ramsey, Vela, Walcott, and Wilshere, and a few others like JET and Lansbury may still go out on loan before the week is out. If we do loan those players out, I hope it is on a month-by-month basis with an option to recall them at a moment's notice if they are needed due to an injury crisis in the first team squad.
That's the lot for today, but I'll continue my season preview tomorrow by going through our defensive options.
Here's a look at what Szczesny can do.
See You Tomorrow.
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