Can Arsenal Win The Title Without A New Goalkeeper?
Arsene Wenger had two tasks this summer if he was to build a title-winning team: strengthen the defence and sign a new goalkeeper. Oh, and keep Cesc Fabregas, which makes it three. The transfer window closed yesterday with two new centre backs, Fabregas staying and a new striker. Two outta three ain’t bad, as Meat Loaf crooned.
It left Arsenal ‘as you were’ in May. Almunia is the Number One, Fabianski his reserve, Manonne and Szczesny the lower ranking goalkeepers. The received wisdom is that this is not how Wenger envisaged the transfer window or season panning out. Various bids were reportedly submitted for Mark Schwarzer, none of them satisfactory enough for Fulham whilst Eduardo and Pepe Reina also received the attentions of the Arsenal manager. How many of those were genuine or based on the word of ‘someone close to the deal’ remains to be seen.
Yet no deal came to fruition. Indeed, there was something unedifying about the pursuit of Schwarzer – not necessarily the club’s fault – through the back pages, no better than the Spaniard in my opinion and whilst the rationale of finding a stop-gap until Szczesny comes of age is beyond dispute, surely Arsenal Football Club is better than this?
The outcome though leaves us with the current incumbents which to many, including myself, is less than satisfactory. It is however, what it is and the players need our backing. I am not sure that the multitude of detractors will make that switch in their entirety, continuing to snipe from the sidelines during international weeks and in the lead up to matches. Some of that derision will be directed towards the manager for failing to resolve the issue beforehand. It is the type of decision for which he is handsomely rewarded and not one that would have been taken lightly, no matter how simplistic the arguments may be presented.
The failings of the current crop of goalkeepers at the club are well-documented and harshly dealt with. As was observed in the comments yesterday, Almunia made one mistake at Anfield – flapping at a cross – whilst Reina did the same, compounding that by fumbling the ball into his own net for a last-minute equaliser. Which one came off the worst in the days that followed? It is nonsensical, prejudices overtaking reason at a frightening pace.
That is not to say the weaknesses of Almunia should be glossed over and it must surely be the case that he is working on them in training. However, as Reina and others have proved this summer, mistakes by goalkeepers are becoming more commonplace. Minimising these, which by the nature of the player’s position are costly, is key to a successful season. Whether that happens, only time will tell and if it has not happened by January’s window, will Wenger return to the scenes of this summer’s crimes with a more persuasive cheque book?
The crux of the matter is whether the absence of a world-class goalkeeper will prevent Arsenal winning the title. According to some, it will. Henry Winter took top prize for pomposity on Twitter last night with this gem:
#Arsenal: great club, great manager, great outfield players. But no keeper. Unbelievable. So that’s the title race down to #Chelsea & #MUFC
Having re-checked the table, I can confirm that Arsenal are second and have conceded two goals, the same as Manchester United but more than Chelsea, who has yet to see their defence breached. Were Winter’s observation true, that would not be the case, particularly as one of those matches was at Liverpool. Too much reading of anti-Arsenal diatribes elsewhere for someone who should be trying to shape opinions instead of following blithely like a sheep.
The performance of Almunia at Blackburn was hopeful; he dealt with crosses well and was not intimidated at corners or in a confrontation with Diouf. Previous seasons would have seen his confidence crumble under that pressure. It is not proof that the problems have been solved, mistakes eradicated but a positive base from which the Spaniard can build. Wenger noted that his goalkeeper played without fear, off the leash or words to that effect. This needs to be continued throughout the campaign.
Can Arsenal win the title without a new goalkeeper? Yes, they have done so before. Those of a certain age will find a sense of deja vu in these arguments, John Lukic was a similar goalkeeper to Almunia in most people’s eyes before the 1988/89 season commenced. He improved as that campaign wore on, indisputably assisted by a phenomenal defensive unit.
Almunia is not afforded such protection and this is key to a title-winning campaign; the back four, midfield and attack must improve their work to prevent attempts on goal. Early signs are that they are doing so, their opponents total of shots on goal is the lowest in the Premier League. Long may that continue. Frequently there is criticism which involves the suggestion that Almunia does not inspire confidence in his defenders, a presumption offered without proof. The same situation as Lukic?
For the air of uncertainty – Almunia is insecure, a frank admission in an Evening Standard interview – Wenger must take some of the blame. Throughout the summer he maintained that he had not decided who would be his starting goalkeeper, perhaps an attempt to gain improved performances. The number of games in which Fabianski appeared suggested the Pole was his prime choice; perhaps the goals conceded in Warsaw put paid to that or was it their nature?
Whatever the case, a number of teams have won trophies without outstanding goalkeepers – Barcelona has been doing so for years with Victor Valdes – their defences protecting leads to an extent missing from Arsenal in recent seasons. Defending the goal is not down to one player; cohesion and protection starts from the front and ends with the goalkeeper. If the former works properly, nothing is impossible.
Posted on September 1, 2010, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer, Transfer Gossip and tagged Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Soccer, Transfer Gossip. Bookmark the permalink. 654 Comments.