When you manage a football club, winning is your top priority. You will receive plaudits for developing talent, protecting the club’s finances, and playing attractive football. But ultimately, you are judged on wins and losses. Your trophy cabinet is your resume. And when you don’t win, the other aspects of your stewardship become increasingly difficult to appreciate.
Arsene Wenger has done it all. He has won trophies. He has built Arsenal into one of Europe’s elite teams. He has developed a tremendous youth system, impeccably managed the budget, and put some of the world’s finest football on display. And it is for all those reasons that he is rightly revered as a living legend at Arsenal. He is a manager the likes of which the club may never see again. But now, as we stand at the beginning of a new season’s journey, the fans are getting restless.
Arsene Wenger himself has stated that this team is ready to start winning trophies. The talent is there, the maturity has improved, and all signs suggest that we have what it takes to mount a serious challenge. So it begs the question; if goal keeping is an area of weakness, one that was obvious last season, and identified by Arsene this summer, why have we failed to address it? Arsene’s answer to our goal-keeping conundrum is to essentially act like an ostrich and bury his head in the sand. Maybe if we ignore the problems in goal, they’ll go away. Maybe Almunia will suddenly become one of the top keepers in the Premier League. I’m sorry, but that won’t happen. If we are going to win titles now, it will be in spite of our weakness at goal keeper.
People get certain issues very confused. And when it comes to our goal-keeping transfer saga, I think there is more confusion than usual. Mark Schwarzer was identified as our primary goal keeping target as early as May. Because of that, he’s dominated the discussion. Some fans weren’t convinced that he was the answer. Others took the position that anyone would be better than our current lot. But that’s not the point.
If Arsene Wenger believes that Arsenal Football Club would be better positioned to challenge for a title with better goal keeper, then he should have bought one. Frankly, he should have bought a world class keeper. I’m not educated enough in top European keepers to name the right target. Given or Akinfeev, Schwarzer or Marchetti, Loris or Joe Hart, it’s all the same to me. Somewhere in Europe there’s a great goal keeper that we could have acquired if we were motivated enough to capture him. If the boss valued Schwarzer highly enough to focus on him, then I’ll accept that valuation. But we obviously didn’t get him either.
There are a million reasons why we might have failed in our efforts to secure Schwarzer. Stockdale’s injury over the weekend might have scuppered the deal. Fulham’s inability to secure Shay Given might be to blame. Mark Hughes might simply have refused to sell to us on principle. But if the reason is that we failed to meet Fulham’s valuation, then that’s unacceptable. Arsene Wenger is unwavering in his belief that you shouldn’t pay over the odds for any player. But that ideology is misplaced when the difference of £1 million prevents you from signing a keeper that you believe is needed to win titles. I’m not suggesting that’s what Schwarzer means to Arsenal, but if that’s the player Arsene identified then money should not have been an obstacle.
But Schwarzer isn’t the problem. The problem is that we are going to stick with the same goal keeping situation that undermined us last season, at least until January. Almunia cost us points. Fabianski cost us points. And I don’t mean that in the theoretical sense. They actually cost us points from their mistakes. I don’t want to hear about what the other players could have done better. I’m not an idiot and I realize that there are 11 players on the pitch. But when you travel to Birmingham, and you are seconds away from taking all three points, until the keeper contrives to throw the ball into his own net, it’s fair to blame the keeper. When your keeper comes out to claim a routine corner kick and drops it onto the head of an opposing player so that it can bounce into his own net, that’s the keeper’s fault. Our defenders clearly didn’t trust our goal keepers last season and that exaggerated our frailty at the back.
Arsene Wenger said he was looking for goal keepers. It’s not as if there weren’t any available. The problem is that there weren’t any keepers that met his criteria. Wenger wanted a cheap, short term upgrade, who wouldn’t stand in the way of Szczesny’s ascension to number one in a few seasons. Schwarzer, a nearly 38 year old Australian international, with ages of Premier League experience, seemed to check all the boxes. But for a variety of reasons, the deal failed to materialize.
Now the question must be asked whether Arsene Wenger’s criteria were appropriate. Considering the manager’s publicly stated opinion that this team is ready to win trophies, should he have put such particular limitations on his goal keeper search? Should he have valued Szczensy’s future above the immediate needs of the club? And if Schwarzer really was the only legitimate target, shouldn’t he have abandoned his parsimonious ways on this occasion and made Fulham an offer they couldn’t refuse. The club is in extraordinarily good financial health. No one would begrudge him paying a little over the odds for a player at a position so widely believed to be Arsenal’s achilles heel.
Arsene Wenger is a masochist because he knows what’s coming next, and he invited it upon himself. He knows that everyone who follows Arsenal believes our goal-keeping is suspect. He knows that his own statements indicated that signing a new goal keeper was on the agenda. And he knows that the majority of supporters will be dismayed that a goal keeper didn’t arrive during this transfer period. He should also know that most supporters won’t accept that we were unable to acquire a goal keeper. Had it been important enough to Arsene, there would be a new number one at Arsenal. So there’s no escaping what comes next, and Wenger knows it. The next time Almunia or Fabianski costs us points, the blame will fall squarely in the manager’s lap. Should Arsenal fail to win a trophy this season, and the goal keeping is even remotely to blame, Wenger will come under fire like never before.
Is that fair? Does Wenger deserve to be vilified if our goal keeping costs us points and ultimately trophies? Probably not. He’s done some terrific business this transfer period and developed a very talented team on a limited transfer budget while the Emirates Stadium debt restricted our movements. But it doesn’t matter what’s fair. Half the headlines in the English press aren’t fair or even accurate. But that’s never stopped them. Two seasons ago Wenger took some stinging abuse during a Q&A session at the end of the season. His position as manager wasn’t openly questioned, but some of his player decisions were. (The most memorable was when he was asked about the “geriatric” Silvestre.) It wasn’t a shining moment for the club or the manager or the supporters for that matter. But if Arsene thought that was harsh, I expect he’ll find some of the reaction this season even more vituperative should the club fail to mount a sustained challenge. And this transfer period may well prove to be his Waterloo.
Whether it’s reality or insanity, many supporters believe that signing a goal keeper was all we needed to challenge for top honors. Had a goal keeper arrived, and we still failed to garner silverware, most supporters would have been disappointed, but looked at Wenger as having done all he could in the summer. They would have considered the team properly assembled. Now, regardless of the reasons, and regardless of the fairness, any failure will blamed on Arsene by a growing segment of supporters.
Can we win the title with Manuel Alumunia in goal? That’s the only question that really matters in the end. And the answer is uncertain. If he can play like he did at Eewood park every weekend, then there’s no denying that we can. Whether he can play that way consistently is an open question. But I will tell you this with absolute certainty: we cannot win the title with Fabianski in goal. Therefore everyone (Arsene in particular) must hope and pray that Almunia stays healthy. If he doesn’t, and we have to play our difficult winter fixtures with Fabianski as our number 1, then I have no difficulty saying that our title chances will be lost. I suppose there’s always the January transfer window, but there’s an old saying about that sort of thing: “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” As far as I’m concerned, we know who our goal-keeping platoon will be for the rest of the season.
Now comes the hard part. We have to turn the page. We have to act like Manuel Almunia is the greatest goal keeper in the world and we have to get behind this team. This is our Arsenal 2010/11. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours and it needs our support. In truth, I’m not sure it would feel like our Arsenal if we didn’t have heart palpitations with every opposing set-piece. Maybe that’s what we must endure in the name of glory.
We have a talented enough team to win everything this season. If Manuel Almunia is up to the challenge, then he can be the hero of this story. He can become the missing piece that we looked outside the club to find. And if he becomes the goal keeper that we need, then all the glory and the credit goes to him and Arsene Wenger. If he doesn’t become that keeper, then heaven help us all because it could be a heart-wrenchingly disappointing season. If Manuel Almunia fails at Arsenal, then Arsenal will likely fail with him. Arsene Wenger is one man betting that won’t happen. Unless he really is a masochist.
For what it's worth, I believe the reason Wenger couldn't get Schwarzer is because Mark Hughes wanted Shay Given to replace Schwarzer, and Given decided to stay at City to compete with Joe Hart for the number one spot.
Keith,I think that's probably right. But if arsene allowed our search for a new GK to be dictated by that scenario then he was negligent.
Given Wengers history in the transfer market and his ability to pull the rabbit from the hat on many occasions (Cesc, Verm, Theo, Sol, Masri, Song, Eboue) I wonder if the question should not be "Why Wenger didn`t sign a keeper" but more tellinging "Why didn`t ARSENAL sign a keeper"If it was sooo glaringingly apparent that we needed a new GK surely, surely the board/admin would have implored him to do so..So that leaves another school of thought.. If MS was not the answer, and I tend to agree.. He is no great shakes and if he was THAT great a keeper another club would have been battling to sign him, but no one did…I think that perhaps we will be in for a younger keeper in January.. Someone to take no1 for a good few years till our young lad (insert scrabble letters here)is matured enough..Also, you watch Manuel take his chance at last chance salon with both hands.. He must know he has been given a stay of execution to win over the doubters..Ok a lot of the above is supposition… But then your article seems to lean heavily on that too.As for the media… I could not give a fuck what they think of Arsenal…
The basic, fundamental problem is that Arsene has been unable or unwilling to provide us a solid, organized back 5 since Jens and some other defenders left — he's been unable or unwilling to develop a back 5 that is solid, organized, has good communication and understanding, trusts one another, and is worthy of one of Europe's top clubs chasing trophies.That is the essential issue.This isn't about supporting or not supporting Almunia or Fabianski, or the team. Of course we're going to support them now that we're stuck with them, what else can we do? And it's not about Schwarzer or Given – neither of whom are really impressive.The issue is Arsene failing to prioritize our most vulnerable position (and an absolutely key position for any trophy-chasing team), his poor recruiting of average keepers, his refusal to SPEND MONEY on the one position where it is perfectly legitimate (and defensible) to spend big cash because top class keepers are so difficult to find. Ferguson and Mourinho view this as a serious issue–they mean business, they go all out, prioritize it. Wenger doesn't.Even if we had signed a world class keeper, Arsene still would need to focus on building a solid, organized back 5. But at least it would show he meant business. There was one very very good keeper available just before the world cup ended — better than Almunia, Given, Schwarzer. And Arsene bid on him: Eduardo. But he wouldn't raise his bid so Eduardo went to Genoa. Arsene's refusal to spend money on the position is a key issue in this entire discussion as well. He had the money to spend. No, not Chelsea money, but he had more money than past summers. He still remains as tight-fisted as ever.
Eboue is vaablule. He played very well against Barca in the 1st leg. It’s good to have a guy that can slot in and hang with Barca.