Manuel Almunia – Root of the problem or simply the scapegoat?

Every set of supporters seems to find a scapegoat when things aren’t going their way. At Arsenal, it would be fair to say that this ‘honour’ goes to Manuel Almunia. The Spanish ‘keeper has been regularly highlighted this season as one of the North Londoners’ weak links by the Gunners’ faithful. So is this criticism harsh or is Arsene Wenger making a mistake with the loyalty he is showing his number one?

Is the Spanish stopper really as bad as some people say? It is suggested by some quarters that his presence undermines the back four in front of him and leads to a lack of confidence. But would Wenger persist with him if this really were the case? Perhaps with Arsenal’s gung-ho style of play, where the full-backs maraud forward at every given opportunity, the man in between the sticks will always be made to look exposed.

But what are Arsene’s other options? Of course, the supporters have been calling for him to dip into the transfer market and if the reports that linked the Frenchman to Thomas Sorensen are correct then this could be an option in the summer. I always felt Shay Given would have slotted in seamlessly at The Emirates but it wasn’t to be for one reason or another.

At the age of 32, Almunia is experienced and he has been praised by his manager for now making the correct decisions more often than not. But he is not of the world class ability that a team like the Gunners need and is unlikely to drastically improve at his age.

Behind him in the pecking order at the club are three rather more inexperienced ‘keepers. Lukasz Fabianksi also has his doubters and has never really demonstrated star quality. The 24-year-old may look to find a new club if he doesn’t break into the first team soon.

Vito Mannone, the 21-year-old Italian, who made five Premier League appearances back in the Autumn seems to have good potential. He was signed five years ago from Atlanta and Wenger could see him as his long-term answer. But as Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon have demonstrated in the past – the best goalkeepers can hold down a number one spot at big clubs from a young age. Maybe it is time Wenger started to pick Mannone on a more regular basis and see what he is made of?

The youngest of the quartet is the Polish Wojciech Szczesny. He has earned some rave reviews after making a number of appearances during last pre-season for the Gunners. It seems far more Wenger-like for him to wait and let one of his younger ‘keepers develop than go out and purchase a ready-made first-class stopper. The problem is that while Arsene sits patiently for his reserves to reach the desired standard, The Emirates will have to stand by and watch as Almunia is shown yet more loyalty by his boss, knowing that another costly mistake is just around the corner.