Almunia

“The goalkeeper is the jewel in the crown and getting at him should be almost impossible. It’s the biggest sin in football to make him do any work.”~George Graham, 1997

Almunia has got to go. The man is not going to improve at 32 years old. He has done a decent job for Arsenal – like any back-up goalkeeper should. But that’s all that Almunia is and should be at Arsenal – a back-up or good No. 2.

I remember in the 2005 FA Cup 5th Round Replay away to Sheffield United. Arsenal dominated the game and should have won in normal time had it not been for the crossbar and some fine goalkeeping by Paddy Kenny. Arsenal eventually won the tie on penalties thanks to Almunia who won us that game. Ten months later in the Carling Cup quarter-final against Doncaster Rovers, Almunia pulled off more goalkeeping heroics in the penalty shoot out, which saw Arsenal advance to the semi-finals.

Yesterday, Almunia saved point blank from a one on one with Torres. Almunia is very good at shot stopping. But so was Jens Lehmann who could also save penalties – remember the last minute penalty save in the Champions League semi-final against Villarreal? Or the 2005 FA Cup final? Or the penalty save at Anfield in February 15, 2006? A game which Liverpool won 1-0 after Garcia scored with three minutes remaining.

The difference between Lehmann and Almunia is how they deal with crosses, how they command their penalty box, and the confidence they give to the defense.

Lehmann could pick a cross out of the sky, punch the ball far while under pressure, and commanded his penalty box like a lion. This instilled confidence in his defenders who didn’t have any uncertainty when a high ball was delivered into the Arsenal penalty area. Lehmann was prone to some erratic goalkeeping. Sprinting off his line and only half clearing the ball. The Champions League group game away to Panathinaikos is a great example of Lehmann costing Arsenal a goal due to a rush of blood.

The winter in the north of England is cold and windy. High balls carry venom with the wind behind them. Burnley players will know this and that Almunia is weak on crosses. The combination of a swirling cold wind, high balls and Almunia and doesn’t bode well. Owen Coyle tries to make his team play football on the ground, but Burnley scored against Fulham on Saturday from a cross.

Almunia’s punch or lack of, against Liverpool yesterday was pathetic. He was being challenged by Lucas. If he was being challenged by John Carew then I would argue that Almunia would have a difficult job punching the ball away. But Lucas is 5 feet 10 inches and weighs 74 kg. Almunia is 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 86 kg. If you are 12 kg heavier and six inches taller than Lucas, why did you struggle to punch the ball away?

That mistake could have cost Arsenal the game.

Against a team with more confidence it would have.

Almunia is obviously very uncomfortable with any type of high ball into his penalty area. Against Stoke City, he flapped whenever Rory Delap sent in a long throw-in. The man is a liability and Burnley on Wednesday is a real test for him.

Look at the two Doncaster Rovers goals in the Carling Cup quarter-final four years ago to look at two clowns who should not be at Arsenal – Senderos and Almunia:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0i2BRoncNng

Brian Glanville wrote about Arsenal’s goalkeepers in the latest edition of World Soccer:

“You have to go back to Bob Wilson to find an imposing Arsenal goalkeeper, followed majestically by Pat Jennings. Such goalkeepers today are thin on the ground.”

And therein lies Wenger’s problem. Who can you replace Almunia with? I would sign Tim Howard and promote Fabianski until that signing is made. Just before the transfer deadline ended in August, Wenger made an equiry about Robert Green the West Ham goalkeeper. Nothing came from it. But it shows that Wenger is not oblivious to Arsenal’s goalkeeping problem.

Keepers.

Keep it Arsenal

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