The problems facing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal are almost entirely of his own making, but one problem, to my mind at least, seems bigger than the lack of midfield bite and aggression or the lack of a class finisher in the absence of the Dutchman Robin Van Persie – it’s that Wenger persists with a goalkeeper incapable of performing in the big games or even the rudimentary task of saving shots.
For the second time in a fortnight Almunia’s weaknesses were exposed, for the first two shots on target from Chelsea’s Didier Drogba both found the net, just as it happened when Arsenal lost 2-1 to Man Utd at Old Trafford in August where Utd’s only two shots on target ended up in the Arsenal net. Arsenal repeated the same mistakes that cost them so dearly against Man Utd a week ago, such as being caught on the break and failing to finish their chances again but it’s the fact that against Utd too, Almunia seemed likely to concede from every shot on target.
His big game temperament is most definitely in doubt but with rumours surfacing that Arsene Wenger tried to sign Thomas Sorenson on loan from Stoke in a last ditch attempt on transfer deadline day it would seem even his manager is coming to the realisation that a lot of us had reached a long time ago, he’s simply out of his depth.
A decent goalkeeper is paramount to any side that holds serious aspirations about challenging for major honours, which Arsenal undoubtedly do and it’s something (not the only thing admittedly) that Arsenal seriously lack. The only thing keeping Almunia in his place is the lack of any real alternatives at the club. Lukasz Fabianski arrived with a burgeoning reputation but looks error prone and although Vito Mannone performed admirably at the beginning of the season he is undoubtedly a raw talent and one for future.
Defensive solidity was once the hallmark of the great Arsenal sides of the 90s where players such as Seaman, Bould, Keown, Adams, Winterburn and Dixon oversaw a period as the country’s meanest rearguard but today’s crop although talented doesn’t quite come up to scratch as yet – but it’s with Almunia where the biggest problem lies. If a forward is put through one on one, they are almost always going to score. If a ball is out into the box Almunia will rarely come to claim it – he’s simply too poor to play for a top team such as Arsenal in every aspect. He is currently ranked 19th in the league for his shots to save ratio, quite an appalling stat I’m sure everyone would agree with.
Chelsea has Cech, Liverpool has Reina, Man Utd has Van Der Saar, Man City have Given and Spurs have Gomes, all extremely capable keepers. In fact, if you look throughout the league, Almunia would struggle to get in most teams starting elevens. The three teams currently occupying the relegation zone, West Ham, Wolves and Portsmouth all have better goalies in James, Green and Hahnemann. Look a little higher and Wigan’s Kirkland and Bolton’s Jaaskelainen are both better bets. For my money, on talent alone, at only Burnley, Hull and Sunderland would Almunia have a chance of starting and even then it would be in serious doubt.
For Arsenal to move forward it’s imperative that they ditch Almunia, for its fairly simple, you don’t win anything with a bad goalkeeper and for all of Arsenal’s aesthetically pleasing play, without a keeper who can save shots you’ll forever be the bridesmaid and never the bride, something which Arsenal have been for the last four seasons since they won the 2005 FA Cup final. He may survive until the end of what will most probably be another trophy less season for the Gunners but come the summer, Wenger has to buy another goalkeeper, otherwise when the big games roll around next season, the overwhelming and all too familiar feeling of déjà vu will keep occurring again with Almunia between the sticks.
Written By James McManus