Oct 232009

Less than a month ago, we approached a Premiership game away at Fulham with the goalkeeping position in disarray. Almunia had been struck down for over a week with a chest infection, and with Fabianski also out with a long term injury, young Mannone had been thrown into a Champions League game in Liege. One shaky performance later, coupled with an impressive display from fourth choice Szczesny in the Carling Cup, and many were calling for the unpronounceable Pole to get the nod. Mannone was fighting just to be third choice.

Four weeks later, and he remains the number one custodian despite Almunia’s return to fitness. It was a strange sight to see the Spaniard on the bench against Alkmaar – the one man we considered to have no realistic competition for his place was suddenly out of favour.

It is easy to draw comparisons with the way Almunia himself ousted Lehmann a couple of seasons ago, but the reality is much different – Jens had made a couple of horrendous mistakes, Almunia had been waiting in the wings for a number of seasons, and at thirty was in the prime of his career. Mannone, on the other hand, is a complete rookie, not even exposed to Carling Cup games, Fabianski being the cup keeper of last season. To promote someone of his experience may have been forced by the absence of the first two picks, but to keep him after their return is a massive risk.

The trouble Mannone has is that at his age, mistakes are inevitable, and sooner or later one will cost us a game. So far, his errors have come in games we’ve won regardless, and his best display, that fateful game at Craven Cottage, single handedly earned us three points. That the Alkmaar draw in midweek was his first taste of anything other than a win indicates that he hasn’t yet done enough wrong to warrant removal from the team. But twenty one year old goalkeepers are a liability at times, no matter how talented they may turn out to be – experience is crucial in a position where a single mistake is usually punished.

So, even if Wenger persists with the Italian, it is highly likely that sooner rather than later, he will be given good reason to reinstate Almunia as number one. I have to say I’m not entirely convinced by that approach – it won’t do Mannone’s confidence any good to be axed after costing us a game, but then on the flip side it could be even more of a kick in the teeth to be benched without just cause. When all in said and done, I’d be stunned if Almunia wasn’t back in the side sometime in November.

However, if his exile continues, we can expect the media to amplify the story, with inevitable reports of ‘bust-ups’ between him and Wenger. When that day arrives, I’ll have to crack a smile, as there is little less likely than two such calm characters at each other’s throat.

The one person I have real sympathy for in Fabianski. Certain of his position as number two after a series of promising cup displays (so much so that the first line of his player description on the official site still reads ‘Lukasz is now the established No 2 keeper behind Manuel Almunia’), this is exactly the situation he would have been waiting for. But unfortunately, his knee injury came at exactly the wrong time, and he missed the perfect opportunity to establish himself in the side. Now, instead of competing for the gloves, he finds himself looking over his shoulder at the other emerging talents at the club, and wondering how far down the pecking order he has dropped in his absence.

There is an argument that if Almunia is truly out of favour, Fabianski may get the nod when his returns to fitness in the next few weeks, but I think this would throw even more confusion on the situation. Competition for places is a great thing, but there needs to be some consistency at the back for a defensive unit to operate successfully. It seems to be a straight fight between Almunia and Mannone at present.

I expect Almunia to win out eventually, but as and when he does, his mental state could have a massive impact on our season. If his confidence is destroyed, so may be our chances of winning trophies. However, if he returns as hungry as when keeping Jens out of the side, then this might turn out to be a masterstroke of management.

Much of our season depends on it. Let’s hope the gamble pays off.

  15 Responses to “Confusion reigns in goal as Almunia’s guaranteed spot is ripped away”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Beautiful Groan, Arsenal Buzz. Arsenal Buzz said: The Beautiful Groan >> Confusion reigns in goal as Almunia’s guaranteed spot is ripped away http://bit.ly/3kFg55 […]

  2. Reminds me of a few years back when Stuart Taylor got his chance due to injuries to Seaman and Richard Wright. He did so well, when Seaman returned Taylor was keeping England’s number 1 out of the first team! Sadly, Taylor lost his place in the team, ironically due to injury!

    We had three goalkeepers pick up a Premiership medal that year – will history repeat itself?

  3. Ah, Stuart Taylor. I liked that one, always thought he’d turn out to be a top keeper. Never mind!

  4. Nothing like competition for places, to give a complacent player a kick in the backside. This situation, however it plays out, should work in the team’s favour as I expect Almunia to want his place back so bad, he will ‘spill blood’ to keep it when he inevitably, returns to the side.

  5. You surprise me with your defence of Almunia. How many games did he cost us last season with his bizzare goalkeeping? Remember one Casillas from Real Madrid? How did get his break? Vito deserves all that is coming to him. Give the boy a break. Now coz he is a young keeper he is not good enough whille we pride ourselves as a team which gives youth a chance? What a farce.

  6. Johnson, we certainly pride ourselves on giving youth a chance, and nothing I’ve said is a criticism of Mannone in any way.

    The point is that 21 for a keeper is the equivalent of 17-18 for an outfield player in the progression of their career, and it would be harsh on Mannone himself to expect too much too soon. You can guarantee that many will be on his back when mistakes occur (and they will, even Casillas made mistakes at that age, and indeed still does – witness his howlers in the week).

    You misinterpreted my point if you think I said he isn’t good enough. My point is that Almunia has been solid enough over the last few years that he can expect his place back at some point, my only concern is his mental state when he does. Hopefully he’ll come back hungry.

    As for Mannone, he is doing a great job of proving that he can become an excellent goalkeeper, but it would be unfair to put undue pressure on him this early in his career.

  7. I don’t agree with Pete. Competition among the goal keepers should be good for us. Then Almunia would no longer be complacent, Fabianski would concentrate 100% when given opportunity and Vito would not relient to work hard to pick the first shirt. All we care about is a cool and relaible keeper should the defenders go to sleep. Almunia caused us lots of matches last season but then Fabianski could not really compete with him. Now he’s got his match in young Vito!
    Age should not be a measure of someones’ ability and drive to achieve and much more experience comes out of much battle. So let Vito keep facing the battle with Fabianski and Almunia. This will encourage the 4th keeper too that he doesn’t need to wait long for his own time.

  8. Competition is good Suji – I agree with that wholeheartedly. But, and this is a big but, settled defences are generally more successful.

    It is good that any of our keepers could get into the first team, but once there, they deserve a run unless they mess it up.

  9. Almunia has made mistakes, but which EPL keeper hasnt. Foster has been a liability for Man U. and VDS while being solid is never spectacular. Cech is absolutely shocking coming for the high ball (costing them the Villa game and a goal versus Stoke). Reina is currently the only mistake free EPL keeper, and even he has a history of shocking mistakes.

    Mistake free keepers are very hard to come by these days.

  10. Pete – Hennessey at Wolves is 22…
    So your point about age, in a goalkeepers perspective, is pointless.
    Keep Mannone in until Jan, then sell Alnunia and Flapianski to be replaced by Akinfeev, Schwarzer or even Hennessey himself. Let Mannone keep goal in the cups.

  11. Gooner, I don’t think mistake free keepers exist at all, the closest I can think of are Buffon and Casillas, but I can remember howlers from both. It happens – no-one’s perfect.

    For some reason though, Almunia comes in for more flak than most for his errors, and he was hugely impressive last season for me.

    Vassey, I take your point on Hennessey, but Mannone’s debut was a Champions League game, so the pressure level is very different. But I had forgotten him – he’s a good keeper for his age, to be fair.

    I guess my point about age refers to the rash decisions young keepers can make – Almunia himself used to hare out of goal when he was never likely to reach the ball- those judgement calls get better with experience.

    I’m happy for Mannone to stay in for now, but I think it would be harsh on Almunia for him not to return as some point soon.

  12. Eish…come down guys. First Pete the issue of age is definitely out think of Casillas b4 u consider age. All we need in the Arsenal team right now is a reliable goalkeeper! Arsenal have really paid heavily from bad goalkeepers. The only who ever played very well for Arsenal with an error rate low is Seaman.

    Almunia to me is a mediocre or should i say a decent keeper but time for decency is past we need to win something this season and goalkeeping is crucial to achieving that. Fabiansky is too small and unreliable (remember the Chelsea FA cup semi final) for my liking hence classified mediocre! The guy who really fits our former Seaman is not yet known hence a chance to Mannone is really crucial and vital. Actually, i highly rate Italian keepers so VM is currently proving a point and he should stay in goal i dont care what Almunia thinks or does. Fabiansky Carling Cup will be enough!

  13. I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed for Mannone – he seems to have the right attitude so he has all the tools he needs. Let’s hope it works out :)

  14. Hmm, the one time you be really controversial and you turn out to be prophetic! Citing Iker Casillas as a reason to keep Mannone in is clearly incorrect – Casillas is an exception, the best keeper in the world (I’ll pretend that I didn’t see the midweek highlights), so any “but Casillas…” arguments don’t warrant merit.

    Young players don’t become first team regulars. They get a run in the team. Then they drop down, and become Cup regulars, playing in the first team when needs be. Keepers shouldn’t be any different.

  15. True – saying X keeper is ready to play in the first team because Casillas did is equivalent to saying any midfielder is ready at 17, because Cesc was.

    What will be interesting is to see what happens now that Fabianski, who was ahead of Mannone in the pecking order, is fit again.

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