Arsenal’s goal-keeping crisis a self-perpetuating mess


Manuel Almunia made yet another error today in Arsenal's clash with West BromSame old story for Arsenal at the Hawthorns today – or at least it was up until the 70th minute when Arsenal’s Russian magician Andrey Arshavin struck a ferocious shot past a bewildered Scott Carson. Arsenal had 63% of the possession to West Brom’s 37% and 11 attempts on target to West Brom’s 3. So how was it then that the Gunner’s entered the final quarter of the game trailing to West Brom by two goals?

The answer, I’m afraid, has something to do with a combination of West Brom’s direct, clinical approach (which helped them grab three goals at the Emirates earlier this season) in combination with Arsenal’s tendency towards catastrophe at the back. It’s this catastrophe that I’d like to focus on.

Steve Reid put the home-side in front after just three minutes when he flashed home a header from Chris Brunt’s corner. The corner was needlessly conceded through lazy defending and Ramsey’s bad positioning allowed Reid to pull away from his marker and head home with ease.

Arsenal huffed and puffed, only to grant West Brom the simplest of goals. Youssouf Mulumbu hit a hopeful long ball forward that French defender Sebastien Squillaci was all but set to clear (though who knows, given his current form book) before Almunia rushed off his line, stewarding Squillaci out of the way and allowing Peter Odemwingie to shoot into the back of an empty net. It’s something that has to be seen to be believed. A moment of pure madness from the Spaniard.

Unfortunately, that’s something that has come to characterise Arsenal’s six-year trophy void – an inability to find a decent keeper. There was one season when Jens Lehmann (who has made a return to North London, only it seems, to put a smile on Arsenal fan’s faces) had a remarkable period between the sticks, guiding Arsenal to the Champion’s League final. But beyond that it has been Arsenal’s most troublesome position.

Arsenal fans were clamouring for Arsene Wenger to make a signing in that position over the summer – something he stubbornly refused to do. Still, I have my doubts as to whether Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer was really the answer to all of Arsenal’s goalkeeping woes.

Almunia isn’t a bad keeper – in fact, he’s a fantastic shot-stopper (if you need evidence re-watch the second leg of the recent Arsenal-Barcelona Champion’s League game) but he is a terrible decision maker. I’ll grant that he can also be a little sloppy – I’ll never forget him spilling Kevin Phillip’s soft shot into the back of the Arsenal net last March during injury time against Birmingham City, condemning the Premier League-chasing Gunner’s to a rather damning draw. In general though, he’s not as bad a keeper as people make out. But is he Arsenal standard? No.

Then there’s Lukasz Fabianski who replaced Almunia after the Spaniard was the perpetrator of one mistake too many. If we’re honest, despite a resurgence in the overall positivity of fan feeling towards the Pole before his injury, Fabianski hasn’t had too great of a time between the sticks for Arsenal up until now. High profile mistakes against Stoke (January 2010) Porto (February 2010) Wigan (April 2010) and Tottenham (September 2010) have left his copybook with far too many blotches. He’s another player who simply fails to inspire confidence in both the players around him and the fans.

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