Manuel Almunia

It took a tackle by El Hadji Diouf to finally complete Almunia’s long journey towards being the definitive number one goalkeeper at Arsenal Football Club.

Prior to that, he had been known as a gentle shot-stopper with phenomenal reaction. Most will look poorly upon his contributions in the Champions League Final, beaten at the near post on two occasions.

When Jens Lehmann let a ball slip through his hands and allow Blackburn equalize, the Almunia period began officially. We went on a run of seven straight victories in the league. Our players went out of their way to congratulate Manuel, because they all liked the guy. Lehmann was a fierce character, one whose contributions to this club should never be ignored.

Regardless of the results, nothing Almunia did eased my nerves. He’d make crucial stops, but he couldn’t build walls, had weak wrists, and never looked commanding. People spoke about Gallas’s lack of leadership, but I’ve seen him organize the players on the pitch. I didn’t see enough of Almunia directing players in the box and making his life easier for himself. He didn’t know when to claim the ball on crosses, and in big games, his weak distribution led to dropped points.

That being said, apart from a few off games, he looked more comfortable. Perhaps it was the knowledge that Lehmann was no longer behind him, looking on angrily, he took to the task and has produced enough saves to merit his status as the number one.

In Rome, he undoubtedly looked nervous during the penalty kick shootout. His body language when we were taking penalties told me a lot. He was bent over, not looking at the goal, and looked as if he was going to vomit. The only penalty he saved was one of the worst efforts I’ve seen, and Almunia couldn’t believe his luck. Even though he was nervous, since he prevailed, his confidence received a big boost.

Against Blackburn, Diouf showed true colors and went hard in on Almunia’s ankle. Afterwards, during a corner kick, Almunia stood up to Diouf and finally showed the spine that we all looked for. He was steady through the game.

Last weekend, he capitalized on Martins’ nerves and saved the penalty. He swallowed the ball up, so that there would be no rebound. Earlier in the year, he saved a penalty kick against Aston Villa and it produced no boost to our team. This time, it was different. Especially with Andrey’s revelations that Wenger instructed the team that Newcastle would fade after the first thirty minutes of the game.

Terrible penalty or not, Almunia kept us in the game. Wenger would say that the Roma fixture helped give confidence to Manuel. Arsene believes that goalkeepers reach their peak between the ages of 30 and 35. Manuel Almunia is 31 years old.


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