ARSENAL'S NUMBER ONE
So let's get behind himI'll start with an apology to anyone that's read today's Arseblog. You might feel that, having read this, you have seen this somewhere else today. It just happens that we appear to agree on a lot of things with regard to our goalkeeper situation.
With hindsight I am glad I was at work yesterday evening. Being busy meant that I wasn't sat in front of Sky Sports News getting more and more worked up about the fact that we were slipping through the transfer window without addressing glaring weaknesses within the squad. I still believe we are short of a defensive midfield player, and Van Persie's latest injury (along with Bendtner's long-standing problem) leaves us more than a little short up front again. However, it is widely acknowledged that it is in goal where Arsenal have the most urgent need. The fact that Arsene Wenger had made a bid for a goalkeeper during the Summer indicates that he also knows this is the position that needs surgery.
We are all aware that Arsene Wenger has tried to sign Mark Schwarzer. I have said before that I do not believe the Australian is a better goalkeeper than Manuel Almunia. When it was announced yesterday afternoon that he was staying at Fulham I was not upset or disappointed. However, having seen the need for a new keeper I have to ask if all Arsenal's eggs were in the one basket. How could it be that, after a close-season of three months, Arsenal were still chasing someone on 31st August? Why, having had bids turned down, had Arsene Wenger not turned his attentions elsewhere? Has he not noticed that there are other, much better goalkeepers than Mark Schwarzer?
I will happily acknowledge that, in my opinion, Manuel Almunia is not good enough to be Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper if we wish to challenge seriously in the Premier League and European Cup (we can discount the Carling Cup and FA Cup as the Manager considers these competitions unworthy - another example of his delusion, you might say.) Manuel's performance in the first leg against Barcelona last season was a microcosm of what he is about - a first-half wonder display, followed by a howler in the first 30 seconds of the second-half, which is what makes him a good goalkeeper, rather than a top goalkeeper.
What concerns me is not so much the fact that Almunia remains, but that his understudy is still Lukasz Fabianski. It is clear that Fabianski was a young goalkeeper of some promise, and was extremely highly-rated. It is also clear, now, that the man's confidence is shot to pieces and that playing for Arsenal will do him no good at the moment. He could play five games and have a blinder in each one - so much so that the ironic cheering from certain muppets in the crowd dies away - but one mistake in the sixth game would see him pilloried again from every corner of the Arsenal supporting world. In reality it is highly unlikely that we would get to the sixth game before such an error ensued. The best thing for Fabianski would be to get away from Arsenal, even if just for a few months on loan to a Championship team, and be given the chance to play and regain some form and confidence. This would also allow Sczeszny the opportunity to move up and challenge Almunia properly. If Almunia, for all his failings, was to be unavailable for Arsenal at any time I fear greatly for what might happen.
I am not an Arsene Wenger apologist. Far from it, in fact. However, I can not abide the abuse that is forthcoming on certain forums. The language being used to describe the Manager is beyond anything acceptable. I firmly believe that Arsene Wenger has had his time at Arsenal and is in danger of ruining everything that he created. However, I will never lose my respect for a man that has revolutionised not only my Club, but English football in general. We had enjoyed success, unparalleled in our long history, up to 2005 and this was down to the effect that Arsene Wenger had on players and Arsenal Football Club as a whole. To read the vitriol directed against him right now is distasteful and uncalled for. Even if, like me, you want the Manager replaced, surely you can not really see him as a figure of hate.
The same observations as those on the Manager apply to Manuel Almunia. I have seen him described more than once as a c***. Why? Almunia's only crime is to be selected to play for Arsenal when most people acknowledge he is not quite the required standard. This is not his fault - Almunia does not pick the team, and does not demand to play every week. One thing that Almunia could not be accused of is a lack of effort - the man puts his body on the line every game, and for that alone he deserves to be respected, even if he is not to be lauded as a top player. One thing is for certain - between now and January, barring any catastrophic errors, Manuel Almunia is Arsenal's number one. That means that we sure as hell better get behind the man. Almunia, as much as (if not more than) anyone else, needs the support of the Arsenal fans. You can be sure he will get it from the away boys and girls, I just hope he gets it at home where we have more people who form their opinion from messageboards, Andy Gray and The Sun.
With the transfer window closed there is not a lot more we can say with regards to the squad. Arsenal are yet to announce their 25 players for the Premier League, though it had to be submitted to the League by 5pm today. We go with what we have, and we must hope that the players we have (no longer including Armand Traore, who has gone to Juventus on loan) can be up to those challenges I wrote about earlier. If the squad does not. or can not, challenge for honours then the Manager must be held to account by the Board. Balancing the transfer books may be admirable, but it doesn't seem to lead to a Premier League Title. If I am proved wrong at the end of the season and we are Champions, then I will be happy to apologise to Arsene Wenger for being wrong - I hope I have to do so.
Most Arsenal fans will be aware that our legendary goalkeeper, Bob Wilson, lost his daughter to cancer at a tragically young age. It was with great sorrow that I read today of the passing of Bob's son-in-law, who has apparently died after stepping on a sea urchin. Anyone who has met Bob will know that he is a wonderful man, with a word for everyone. Bob is, of course, utterly devoted to his beloved Arsenal and to granting the wishes of his daughter through his work for the Willow Foundation (I have added their logo to the blog - you can visit their website at www.willowfoundation.org.uk.) Following the tragedy of their daughter, Bob and Megs Wilson deserve to be hit by further loss less than anybody. My heart goes out to them at this time and we can not even begin to imagine what they must be feeling. I hope that Arsenal do something to acknowledge this loss at the Bolton game next Saturday.
I'm sure all Arsenal fans, and football fans in general, would join with me in sending the Wilson family their best wishes. It puts our minor goalkeeping issue in some sort of perspective, don't you think?