Jens Lehmann was present on the bench for the Gunners for the first time this season after he had signed a rolling contract in the last week. Arsenal had a tough trip to the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion, knowing that only a win will bring confidence to the side who had been eliminated from all cup competitions in a fortnight.
Aaron Ramsey made his first start for the Gunners in more than a year and Arsenal named quite a strong team to face West Brom. The Baggies had the lead when Reid scored from a corner, with Arsenal defenders not quite sharp enough. From then on, it was an uphill battle for the Gunners, who had plenty of possession but did not create too many clear-cut chances.
Robin van Persie hit the crossbar and Ramsey, who was following up, managed to only shoot straight at Scott Carson. But without their captain, Cesc Fabregas, and Alex Song, they lacked the drive in midfield and toiled their way in search of a goal. In the second half, Wenger hauled off the unimpressive Denilson to bring on Marouane Chamakh to partner Van Persie.
Arsenal were building a good spell of pressure when Almunia proved that experience makes no difference for some players. It was a clearance from West Bromwich Albion which led to the second goal. Odemwingie was isolated and had no support from his teammates. He was shielded by Squillaci, whose positioning, if not the best, was certainly not the worst. Almunia took a stupid decision to come out of the box to clear the ball and all the striker needed to do was to roll it into the empty net.
It is quite likely that, had Djourou been present, Arsenal would not have conceded the opener, and if Szczesny had played, he would not have made such a useless decision. Though Szczesny made an error in the Birmingham game in the Cup final, it was due to a communication error rather than a goalkeeping mistake. Szczesny has shown great maturity in the games this season and Fabianski has shown that he can be consistently good for the Gunners.
Arsenal's late fightback salvaged a point for the Gunners, but the bitter taste left by Almunia's mistake is hard to take for an Arsenal supporter. In the reverse fixture at the Emirates, Almunia was the No. 1 keeper and had performed decently in the few matches before the game. He made a good penalty save, but made "school boy" errors in the game, which cost the Gunners all three points. It seemed at that point that his Arsenal career was over, with Fabianski and later Szczesny impressing in his absence.
Arsenal's extraordinary bad luck meant that both their keepers would get injured and Almunia would again get the chance to be the No. 1 keeper till the end of the season. Almunia was excellent in the game against Barca, where it was only shot-stopping. His horrible decision making and his inability to control the penalty area have led to Arsenal squandering a number of points in the last few seasons.
Almunia was again handed the chance to redeem himself against West Brom and has cost Arsenal another two points. In seven league appearances, Almunia has cost Arsenal five points, which could have been avoided had he not made errors. On the other hand, Lukasz Fabianski has made 14 appearances and the goal by Carroll is the only goal that he could have probably done better. In games against Wolves, Everton and Manchester City, he was one of the best performers and even won some Man of the Match awards.
Szczesny has made eight appearances in the league and has won a number of plaudits for his faultless performances in the league. Almunia has been given a number of opportunities by Wenger and he is clearly below the standard of an Arsenal keeper and has contributed to Arsenal's trophy drought with his numerous errors, including one against Birmingham last year, which was the start of the slump for the Gunners.
Jens Lehmann was signed by Wenger and cut a frustrated figure after the error by Almunia. "Mad" Jens and Almunia have had a cold relationship in the past, and despite all that Lehmann has said after joining, he will gladly accept the challenge to fight for the No. 1 keeper slot. The German has already won trophies with the Gunners and knows what it means to play for a team like Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger would not have provided an opportunity for Jens Lehmann if he was not convinced of the German's reflexes and fitness. Lehmann has two weeks to have more training, but should be given the chance by Wenger to start ahead of Arsenal for the game against Blackburn Rovers. He is sure to have a go at the defenders if he is not pleased with their efforts and his experience and command are what Arsenal need at this juncture.
Almunia's career should have ended against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates back in September, but Wenger must ensure it ends after another horror show by Almunia against West Brom at the Hawthorns. Lehmann was dispossessed of the No. 1 keeper slot by Almunia and must be provided with the honour of stripping the Spaniard's goalkeeping slot for Arsenal.
This article is also featured on The Invincible Gunners, a blog on Arsenal.