Archive for September 1st, 2010

Almunia’s Dignity Deserves Our Support

53 comments September 1st, 2010

As the deadline approached, there we were, chomping at the proverbial bit, frantically following up even the most ludicrous of twitter-originated rumours, clinging to the desperate hope that our bid for Mark Schwarzer might resurrect itself and stumble, zombie-like, over the line.

In actual fact, Fulham have since revealed, we didn’t even make a bid on deadline day.  Arsene had twice made a £2m offer, and wasn’t prepared to raise it for a 37-year old keeper whose contract expires in 12 months time.

Had I been Arsene Wenger, I would have signed a keeper.  Pretty much any keeper.  The fact is that Arsene’s clear lack of faith in his current crop of keepers has damaged their confidence and unsettled them.  Almunia’s postmatch interview after his impressive performance at Blackburn had the grey-eyed monotony of a man on death row. He thought his time was up.

Fans felt the same. Surely the waiting game would end, Arsenal would raise their bid, and Schwarzer would sign. An extra one or two million seemed a relatively small price to pay for resolving the one problem position remaining in our squad.

When the deadline passed, I expected to feel disappointed, even angry and frustrated.  In the end, I didn’t.  We failed to sign Mark Schwarzer, not Buffon. There are worse things.

Don’t get me wrong: the Aussie is a good goalie.  I advocated his signing long before we were linked with him.  He’s got bags of Premier League experience, and a solid if unspectacular record.  But is he really that much better than Manuel Almunia?

If – and there were signs of it at Ewood Park – Almunia can rediscover his mojo, he’s as palatable an option as an ageing Aussie nursing a serious back injury. The height of my desperation for us to sign a new keeper came when I thought Arsene was going to install Fabianski as Number 1. Since he’s seen sense and opted for the Spaniard, things have settled somewhat.

I won’t claim to understand why Arsene didn’t pursue alternative options. I’d hazard a guess that his faith in our younger keepers meant he was only interested in a player near the end of his career. I feel sorry for Schwarzer, who clearly had his heart set on a move across London. Arsenal’s interest was firm, but not firm enough to break Fulham’s resolve. In the end, the injury to David Stockdale probably confirmed Schwarzer’s fate. His contract expires in twelve months time, but whether Arsenal will be interested in him by then is another story.

Perhaps we’ll all be celebrating a rejuvenated Manuel Almunia. Whatever your feelings about his goalkeeping, there’s no doubt Almunia is a loyal, committed, popular member of the squad. Throughout this summer he has behaved with dignity, despite being forced in to a near untenable position. It has reminded me of the way in which the manager sidelined Gilberto Silva after his decision to switch the captaincy to William Gallas. We know Arsene is a good man, but we also know he can be ruthless. He was prepared to be ruthless with Almunia.

If Manuel can cling on to a few crosses with the tenacity he clung on to his place at Arsenal, we’ll be on to a winner. Despite immense pressure, he spoke only of his acceptance of competition and his desire to win trophies with Arsenal. That the manager continued to use him as a vice-captain, even when his future was most in doubt, speaks volumes for his character.

Almunia deserves our support. It is not his fault that the manager failed to replace him. He will continue to do his job with the same humility and diligence he always has done. This summer, Jens Lehmann said Arsenal would find it hard to find a better goalkeeper. Winning the support of his one-time arch-nemesis says a lot.

When the first mistake comes – and it will, as mistakes come to all goalkeepers – don’t turn on him. More than ever, we need him. The alternative, after all, is Lukasz Fabianski.

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