Has Wenger’s loyalty to duo subsequently been Arsenal’s undoing?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is known to be fiercely loyal to his players but even by his standards, the loyalty he has shown to his two goalkeepers Manuel Almunia and Lukas Fabianski is impressive.

Like his Fawlty Towers namesake, Manuel Almunia’s time at Arsenal has been characterised by confusion and uncertainty. He lacks the basic positional awareness to be a top quality goalkeeper as seen by the failure to cover his near post for David N’Gog’s opening goal for Liverpool on Sunday. Despite being made captain by Arsene Wenger for Sunday’s game, Almunia didn’t show an ounce of leadership qualities and failed to communicate with his defenders. What is probably most frustrating about Almunia for Arsenal fans is that he does have the ability to produce some world-class saves. For example, his first half display against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League tie at the Emirates shows the kind of goalkeeper that Almunia can be on his day. But his evening was spoilt by characteristic poor decision-making when he rushed out of his goal, leaving Zlatan Ibrahimovic the opportunity to lift the ball over him for Barcelona to take the lead.

Poor decision-making is another characteristic of Almunia’s understudy, Polish international goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. The Pole has been routinely criticised for his inability to deal with crosses, leading to the unfortunately nickname of “Flappyhandski” from disgruntled Arsenal fans and opposition fans alike. Fabianski’s uncertainty under the high ball was seen most clearly in Arsenal’s incredible 6-5 preseason victory against Fabianski’s former club Legia Warsaw. For Legia’s second goal, Fabianski tried to come and claim a Legia Warsaw corner from the left, only to trip over his own defender Thomas Vermaelen. The ball fell kindly to Artur Jedrzejczyk who put Legia 2-0 up.

Fabianski was hopeless in the first half against Legia, eventually conceding three goals before being hauled off by Arsene Wenger for fellow Pole Wojciech Szczesny who produced a slightly more accomplished display between the sticks.

The reason for Arsene Wenger’s loyalty to his two under-fire goalkeepers is the recognition that confidence is key to a ‘keeper’s performance. In the face of huge media criticism, it is essential that the manager be seen to publicly back his goalkeepers in spite of their performances or risk destroying any confidence that either of them already have.

In the light of all the negative criticism, Fabianski has responded well. He told Arsenal TV Online that he is determined to prove himself to the Arsenal fans and get them singing his name:

“As a player you have to prove you deserve a chance.”

“I can understand every single shout against me and it can only motivate me to play better and work harder.”

“But of course I am going to do everything in my power to show that I deserve to be respected, then maybe they [the Arsenal fans] will start singing my name – that would be wonderful.”

However, Wenger’s faith in Almunia and Fabianski could be coming to an end as reports are linking the Arsenal boss with a move for Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and Manchester City’s Shay Given. If that proves to be the case, Wenger will have gone some way to alleviating some of the fears of Arsenal fans over their desperate goalkeeping situation.

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