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Former Arsenal boss says Wenger has got it wrong over keepers

PUBLISHED: 16:48 29 September 2010 | UPDATED: 10:38 30 September 2010

Arsenal's Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia goes to pick the ball from the net after West Bromwich Albion score their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates stadium, north London on September 25, 2010. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS  FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY Additional license required for any commercial/promotional use or use on TV or internet (except identical online version of newspaper) of Premier League/Football photos. Tel DataCo +4

Arsenal's Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia goes to pick the ball from the net after West Bromwich Albion score their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates stadium, north London on September 25, 2010. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY Additional license required for any commercial/promotional use or use on TV or internet (except identical online version of newspaper) of Premier League/Football photos. Tel DataCo +4

2010 AFP

Willie Young saw it coming. “Manuel Almunia is an accident waiting to happen,” the former Arsenal defender warned this paper seven days ago, “what is Arsene Wenger playing at?”

Willie Young saw it coming. “Manuel Almunia is an accident waiting to happen,” the former Arsenal defender warned the Ham & High seven days ago, “what is Arsene Wenger playing at?”

Not exactly crystal ball stuff, just the latest ex-player to pipe up against the fragile Spaniard.

Last weekend’s grotesque, error-strewn second half display will not be the straw that broke the camel’s back – that should have come on at least two occasions last season – because the alternatives available to Arsene Wenger are both inferior and inexperienced.

But Arsenal supporters’ goodwill is now stretched to absolute breaking point.

The case for Almunia’s defence looks shakier than ever.

Wenger chose not to blame individuals after West Bromwich Albion’s 3-2 win at Emirates Stadium – “it was not the fault of one player,” he snapped - but despite a flat collective team performance, only his fiercest supporter would dispute the fact Almunia’s lamentable decision-making was the major factor behind Albion securing their first win in Islington since 1983.

Much like the 2-2 draw with Barcelona in April, the Spanish stopper performed excellently in the first half, despite needlessly conceding a penalty, before all his good work was sunk in a second half sea of gaffes.

On the positives, he easily smothered Chris Brunt’s spot kick - the fifth penalty he has saved out of the last six he’s faced at Emirates, an astonishing statistic by any standards.

Then came the second 45. The way Almunia switched off to allow Gonzalo Jara’s speculative effort to squirm from his grasp and into the net was disquieting.

His rush of blood at a key stage of the contest, charging out at Brunt, then seeming to change his mind, leaving him stranded as former Gunner Jerome Thomas easily scored the killer third, was lamentable.

The cat-calls and groans that followed from a large section of the 60,025 crowd, was simply upsetting for all concerned. Not for nothing is he now being called Howlmunia by unforgiving souls.

With a large question mark remaining over his understudy Lukasz Fabianski, the fact the third choice, another Pole, Wojciech Szczesny – on-loan at lowly Brentford last season – is being talked about as a possible replacement merely highlights the crisis at Emirates.

Former boss George Graham showed his ruthless side back in 1990 when he replaced popular title-winning goalkeeper John Lukic with QPR’s David Seaman.

He rarely questions Wenger’s judgment publicly, but this week even he admitted Almunia’s days at Emirates are surely numbered – and claimed the current Arsenal boss should accept the criticism coming his way.

“I think if you’re going to really be realistic challengers for the Premier League you need a top, top class goalkeeper,’’ said Graham, who signed Seaman from QPR for a then world record for a goalkeeper £1.3m.

“I think Almunia is a good goalkeeper, but there’s about half a dozen good goalkeepers in the Premier League. Arsenal need an outstanding goalkeeper. I think they should be looking all round the world, not just in England or Europe.

“I don’t think they have had an outstanding keeper since (David) Seaman left, though Jens Lehmann did do very well for a short period. For three years now they have needed an outstanding goalkeeper and I don’t think they’ve actually got one who is outstanding. I think he’s [Wenger] got to come in for a little bit of criticism.

“I think Arsene’s made a mistake and he should have made his mind up during the close season to go out there and get a new goalkeeper. They’ve got the money – it’s an important position.”

Now Almunia has to respond. And this weekend at Chelsea, a team who have scored 12 goals in their last three home games, at all places, if he recovers from an elbow injury sustained while conceding that penalty on Saturday.

The Spaniard missed Tuesday night’s Champions League clash in Belgrade – watching Fabianski save a penalty and produce an excellent display – but, if fit, the chances are he will return to the starting XI.

If not, Fabianski is waiting to take his chance. Again.

Before leaving Belgrade, Wenger endorsed Fabianski’s claims for the No1 jersey: “At the moment Almunia is injured, we will have to see how his injury goes, but it is too early to say.

“Fabianski had a good game [in Belgrade], we have seen the player who we see in training. He had a faultless game.”

But neither player fill fans with confidence.

Paul Merson opined: “Arsenal need a top goalie, I’ve always said that. There will be a lot of Arsenal fans having sleepless nights on Saturday over who will be in goal…”


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