All’s Well But Will It Manuel & European Nightmares
Manuel Almunia received the backing of his captain yesterday, encouraging him for the season ahead:
Manuel commanded the defence very well at Blackburn – but it is not just about one game or two or three. He is well-loved player among everybody here and performs well for this club. We all wish him a super season and have a lot of trust.
You would expect nothing less than support from the squad since that is the ethos that Wenger encourages: win as a team, lose as a team. Yet the comments indicate the fragility of that trust, indicative of the position in which he plays rather than Almunia as an individual.
There is no doubt that the Spanish goalkeeper needs a big season; he hinted that he could improve his standing, win over his critics two seasons ago with consistent performances. Last season saw his development stall; inconsistency, costly errors and generally not inspiring confidence at all.
Personal circumstances contributed to that and should not be forgotten. Diplomatic absences seem to have reinvigorated Almunia for this campaign. The summer saw him replaced in all but name as number one and it was a little surprising that he was first choice as the season commenced. I suspect there was an element of Fabianski not doing enough – particularly in Poland – to inspire Wenger to take the risk with him so reverted to the Spaniard when other options did not materialise.
It is early days yet and no guarantee of form can be determined. Confident at Blackburn with crosses and looking safe against Bolton are positive steps but the first test will be how he reacts to mistakes and whether they are costly. Then the torrent of criticism which is bubbling will no doubt be unleashed.
As a new Champions League campaign gets under way this week, the manager observed the distress of repeated European failures prevented him from sleeping. There have been some glorious nights under his reign, matched by some abject performances along the way. For every wonderful victory in the San Siro or Bernabeu, there have been crushing defeats against Lens or Auxerre.
The list of failures is not limited to defeats. His first campaign officially in charge ended with an appalling aggregate defeat on away goals to PAOK Salonika. Even for the fledgling double winners, 1997/98s UEFA Cup defeat to the Greeks was a nightmare. The benefit may have been a less congested fixture list that helped in the pursuit of domestic glory but nonetheless, it was a tie that Arsenal was expected to win. Nowhere near the depths to which Winterslag dragged us fifteen years before but disappointing nonetheless.
Most painful defeats happen in finals or semi-finals; to come so close yet have nothing show hurts. The defeat to Galatasaray wrankles, the performance and penalties were abject. Similarly, losing in Paris with ten men being so close to victory hurts yet pride can be drawn from that performance.
The defeat which is most disappointing, represents the biggest wasted chance was The Invincibles. 2003/04 was the Golden Opportunity; Wenger’s strongest squad, in-form and in hindsight, the weakest semi-finals and final competition in Champions League history. Chelsea should have been beaten at Stamford Bridge, there were enough opportunities to do so. When Jose Antonio Reyes gave Arsenal the lead in first half injury during the return at Highbury, the shutters should have dropped. They didn’t and Wayne Bridge’s winner still fills me with dread.
Monaco in the semi-finals should not have been underestimated but Chelsea collapsed spectacularly in the first leg and threw away a tie-winning two goal advantage in the second, neither of which the Arsenal team of that season would have realistically done. Porto? Well, Mourinho’s fairytale farewell would have been a nightmare. It would have been a fitting reward but it was not to be. And we still wait for the Champions League to be delivered.
Posted on September 14, 2010, in Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Champions League, Football, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 193 Comments.