In Praise of Almunia

September 1, 2012

It’s not so much the fact of players leaving that riles fans, it’s more the manner of their leaving.

Which is why I want to single out Manuel Almunia for a round of virtual applause (more of him later).

Not all players can guarantee the affection of supporters once they have moved, but they can guarantee a degree of respect.

It’s not that hard. All they have to do is avoid the short list of “DON’Ts” that should be pointed out to every departing player. For the more stupid ones (yes Adebayor, I’m thinking of you) it could, perhaps, be stapled to their forehead.

This is the list:

DON’T p*ss down our backs and tell us it’s raining (in other words, don’t lie about “ambition” when everyone can see you just want to fill your pockets). You know what? We can understand that. We like money too and most of us would find it hard to resist a job move if someone offered to triple our salary. We’d respect you more if you were honest.

DON’T tell us how your vision of the club’s strategy is different from that of the manager and the people who run the club. You are someone who makes a living from kicking a piece of leather while wearing shorts and long socks. Clausewitz you are not. Let’s leave strategy to those who know what they’re doing, thanks very much.

DON’T, on leaving, talk about how great it is to join a “big” club. If you think Arsenal is not as big as any club in the world then, during your several years with us, you clearly never took off your headphones or lifted your eyes from your smartphone to absorb the history of football’s greatest club. The history of Arsenal is the history of football. You can, if you are lucky, leave Arsenal and move sideways. You can never leave and move up.

DON’T badmouth the club, the fans, your former team mates or the manager. If you want to go, just go and keep your mouth shut. Coming out with periodic, self-justifying swipes at your old club just tells us that you are still desperately insecure about your move and, probably, filled with self loathing.

DON’T ever score against us.

OK, that last one’s a bit hopeful, but you never know…

Some of the departed have managed to exit while retaining our respect. I’m thinking of the likes of Gael Clichy and Kolo Toure, who just got on with their careers and never felt the need to criticise the club that made them or the fans that supported them.

Others – you don’t need me to name them – went through the Exit door with all the grace and elegance of Jo Brand off the high board in the diving pool.

There is a third group, about whom people have mixed feelings: the departure of Cesc Fabregas, for example, may have been a slap in the face for the manager who gave him so much support, but it was long heralded and, since he went, Cesc has said nothing but good things about Arsenal.

Robin van Persie also clearly went for the big payday. With his injury record I can’t really blame him and, one ill-advised statement aside, he at least conducted matters privately. He will not be forgiven by many just for going to Manchester United but I doubt you will ever hear him criticise Arsenal, Arsene Wenger or the Arsenal fans.

Finally, back to Manuel Almunia.

Manuel’s contract expired this summer and he joined Championship side Watford as their first choice goalkeeper.

For most of his last two years at Arsenal, the Spaniard knew he was out of Arsene’s thinking for the Number One spot at The Emirates. And that he had, indeed, lost the spot to someone young enough to be his son.

He also knew that a large proportion of the supporters had serious reservations about his ability to be Arsenal’s custodian. He was likened to Manuel from Fawlty Towers, ridiculed for his mistakes and lampooned on the internet.

During all this time – and despite all that provocation – he never complained, never bitched, never criticised the club or the manager.

I know the cynical will say “why would he? He was getting paid fifty grand a week for doing nothing.” But it’s not Almunia’s fault that Arsene tried to make him the Number One after Lehmann left and paid him accordingly.

Many other players, in Almunia’s situation, would have been disruptive and difficult, leaking stories about their dissatisfaction and moaning to team mates.

Almunia did none of that.

This is what he had to say in an interview recently: “It was really difficult two years ago… because I expected to play more, and better. The last year wasn’t very difficult because I accepted my situation; I went to training every day, I enjoyed the football and staying at a nice club.

“I was trying to teach the young goalkeepers because I knew it was my last year so I did try to enjoy one last year at a big club.

“I believe I left Arsenal as a gentleman and people know that.”

I love the humility of these quotes – particularly the acknowledgement that despite wanting to play more, he also knew he should have played better.

He probably knows he did not quite have what it takes to be the ‘keeper at a top four club, but he had one very decent season for us and some very fine games. Rather than remembering Manuel for his mistakes, I will remember him for his performance in the first half against Barcelona in 2010.

Manuel, good luck at Watford and thankyou for being such a dignified servant of Arsenal.


Sixty Thousand Voices Singing “Manuel Almunia”

March 28, 2011

Imagine this:

It’s our next home game. The interlull is over at last and we’re playing Blackburn Rovers in the latest ‘must win’ game.

As the players emerge onto the pitch, the crowd at The Grove gives voice as one. It’s a visceral, emotional outpouring of passion, enough to make the hairs on the back of even Gladstone Small’s neck stand up.

And what are these 60,000 people (alright nitpickers, 57,000 people) chanting? It’s this:

“Manuel Almunia, Manuel Almunia, Manuel Almunia etc.”

Just contemplate the impact on our goalkeeper.

A week ago he was a broken man, shaking his head in disbelief and, one must assume, self loathing for his latest clanger (the goalkeeping equivalent of trying to execute a 180 on the M25 in rush hour).

But he will almost certainly be turning out between the sticks for the Blackburn game – and he must be dreading the reception he’s likely to get. The image comes to mind of a baby seal being asked to waddle into 60,000 Canadians armed with clubs.

But what if his reception was a massive outpouring of support? What if the whole home crowd really was singing his name (with fervour, mind; not with irony)?

The more I have thought about this, the more I feel it’s exactly what we, the supporters, should do.

You don’t have to love the man. You don’t have to want him in our squad next season. But when he steps out for us against Rovers you have to support him. You have no choice.

You’re an Arsenal supporter, right? You want us to win the league this year, right? Well you have to support the man in goal because he is playing for us and we need him to be the best he can be.

There’s no guarantee that a vociferous round of support for Manuel will make him less likely to make blunders – but it’s sure as hell got to be more helpful than booing him or cheering ironically, which will only dent his confidence even further with possibly disastrous consequences.

He doesn’t pick himself. If he’s not good enough that’s Arsene Wenger’s fault, not his. So when he steps out for us let’s show him that we are behind him.

It will also show the rest of the footballing world that we are the classiest set of fans in the country.

If you think otherwise, if you think that you would prefer to boo him then, and I do not use this phrase lightly, you are not a true Arsenal fan. If you want to try and damage further an already damaged member of the team I have supported all my life, with the likely outcome of making him even more error-prone with a consequent impact on our chances of silverware, then I can only conclude that, deep down, you don’t want us to win.

The nearly six years without a trophy seems to have produced a masochistic minority among our fan base, people who seem to get off more on the disappointments than the successes.

When we lose, they are the first to get online with an outpouring of rage against the players, the manager and the board. When we win, their silence is deafening – The Silence of the Shams, you might say.

If you really support The Arsenal and you’re going to the Blackburn game, then give your full support to Cesc and Song and Theo and Samir and all the rest of them. And above all, give it to Manuel.

Let’s lift the (nonexistent) roof off for our goalie.

He needs it and, who knows, it might just turn him into the ‘keeper who wins us the league title.


Up for the Cup??

March 12, 2011

Lucky Arsenal? This season we have drawn Newcastle and Spurs away in the Carling Cup, Barcelona in the CL, and now Man Utd away in the FA Cup.  I can only imagine Mr Wenger has spent the season walking under ladders and crossing the path of black cats. No-one wanted this fixture, neither Arsenal who are coming off the back of an emotional defeat at Camp Nou nor Man Utd, who are facing Marseilles in an important contest on Weds.

And yet neither manager will give up on this game. In my opinion both will put out as strong a team as injury permits, pride will dictate their actions. However, we are without (I hate writing this …) Vermaelen, Walcott, Fabregas , Song, Fabianski and Szczesny, and United are without Nani, Ferdinand and Park.

The loss of Szczesny has brought about the situation that (almost) all Gooners feared – a run of games for Almunia. Many point out that Manuel had a fine game in Spain and it would be churlish to argue. However, there is a reason why two Poles under the age of 23 are ahead of him in the AFC rankings and that is because Almunia is notoriously inconsistent. It was said at the start of the season by most pundits that Arsenal cannot win the league with Almunia, unfortunately we are about to find out. That said, I am sure he will give his all for the cause (and promote his flagging career). He must be given 100% support.

Having a more reliable defence will give Manuel confidence. We have tightened  to the point where there appears to be some understanding at the back; something missing since Sol left. Who would have thought that Djourou would be the man to come to the fore (apart from GG, and yours truly)?

We still have the midfield creativity problem in Cesc’s absence. Many have called for Nasri to take Cesc’s role, which make much sense. He has the vision and pace to push the team forward and has been given the Captain’s armband (though Almunia will take it tomorrow) which indicates he has the character to lead the team, and character he will need because at OT Fletcher has the licence to kick anyone off the park. Song is a big loss – Diaby plays better when he has the security of a strong defensive midfielder. Will Mr Wenger dare to start Ramsey rather than Denilson? I would take the risk but this is more a reflection of my opinion of Denilson. The Brazilian has much to recommend him, but not at a team at the level of Arsenal. I am sure he will be a huge success in Malaga, Mallorca or Juventus but not at the Grove – sorry.

Up front Van Persie will be chafing at the bit after his infuriating red card, he is playing as well as any time during his Arsenal career.  Bendtner will be desperate to show that with more than 10 minutes on the pitch he can score, but if Nasri and Arshavin are to start I see no place for him. I expect Nik to leave in summer (and I will be sad to see him go), if I was him I would be fuming that having played in most rounds of the Carling Cup and being one of the main reasons we got to the Final, he was dropped for RvP.  Vidic is back for MU which is a huge fillip for them, and a negative for us. Time for Arshavin to rediscover his shooting boots.

Man Utd have been an anomaly; at no time have they looked a title winning team and yet they have led the Premiership for most of the season. With a dull but effective midfield they rely on power rather than guile. What would they give for a young Bobby Charlton? In losing their last two big games they have seen that Giggs and Scholes fading powers are useful but not dependable. Expect a buying spree from SAF this summer –  a GK, a left back (who wants the lamentable Evra?), 2 creative MF’s, and a CB –  Modric, Rodwell, Bale, Cahill, Neuer have all been mentioned. Valencia has suffered from injury and can perhaps become the Giggs replacement, but MU have yet to replace the brilliance of Ronaldo. What they have replaced is Ronaldo’s penchant for acting with an even worse cheat in Nani. – fine player, shame about the histrionics. Rooney has flickered all season, capable of the brilliant but then petulant and obnoxious – once again his career has been boosted by SAF’s influence at the FA. . Berbatov is the PL’s top scorer and yet remains as unreliable as ever – another capable of brilliance or anonymity. His place is under threat from Hernandez who looks a fine signing –  that valuable fox in the box.

Mr Wenger has continually stated Arsenal will fight on all fronts this season, and I expect him to put out his strongest available 11.

My team:

Personally, I expect us to lose; we are not playing with fluency nor with confidence; we usually go down at Old Trafford and we will be forced to play against 14 men (11 players and the officials). Arsenal have yet to score more than one goal in a game at Old Trafford in the PL, so we are unlikely to see a goal-fest. To win we need to score first and force Man Utd to come onto us, thereby allowing Arsenal to play on the counter-attack. And above all, we need a good and fair performance from the referee, Chris Foy.

It is the final game of the season against Man Utd on Mayday which is more important to me and I imagine to both managers –  this is just the Hors d’oeuvre. I would give the Claret- nosed Caledonian (Thank you RL) the win today in exchange for the 3 points at the Grove.


written by Big Raddy

Almunia Back in the First Team

February 22, 2011

With Fabianksi out for the rest of the season, we’re only one injury away from Manuel Almunia resuming his position as Arsenal’s starting goalkeeper.

Let’s say Szczesney picks up a knock in training or gets Shawcrossed on Wednesday night – it would mean Big Al coming in for a string of important games that could include Barcelona away and the Carling Cup Final.

This sort of scenario could happen any time between now and the end of the season and whenever it does the timing will be inconvenient. Let’s face it, the games are only going to get more intense the closer we get to May.

I know that most Gooners would welcome the prospect of Manuel’s return about as much as a cyclist would welcome a bad case of piles during the Tour de France, but it’s a distinct possibility.

So what do we do about it?

For me it’s simple. We throw out the preconceptions, we ditch the bitching and we get behind our man.

If Fabianski, Song, Eboue, Arshavin, Clichy, Walcott and others can find their form again after becoming the butt of the fans’ frustration, Almunia should be given the same chance.

He is being blamed by many for the Orient goal on Sunday – although opinion seems divided as to whether he was at fault. But even if he could have done better, it was one mistake by a player lacking competitive game time.

What many Arsenal supporters seem to forget is that Manuel Almunia can be a very good ‘keeper.

And before you shout me down, take a look at this:

Yes, you can point out that that was way back in ‘08/’09, but cast your mind back just a year ago to this:

There was a time when Almunia was being seriously mooted as a possible England goalie. When the competition included David ‘Calamity’ James, Paul ‘Air Kick’ Robinson and Robert ‘Butterfingers’ Green, you can see why Manuel was in the frame.

Almunia has played very well for Arsenal in the past and, while he’ll never be in the Seaman or Lehmann class, he’s a solid professional who, if he played in a mid table EPL team, would probably be highly thought-of by the fans.

He has had bad spells as well as good, but some of the bad spells have coincided with having a defence in front of him offering about as much protection as a cotton condom.

In his good spells he has been very good and, in my opinion, his greater stature makes him less likely to be bullied than Fabianski. (I’ve never seen us concede a goal by having Almunia bundled into the back of the net, as has happened with Fabiasnki).

Szczesney is undoubtedly in Pole position (pun intended) for the Arsenal number one spot but if Almunia comes back into the first team in this exciting season he will need our support, not our ridicule.

Apart from anything else, I have never heard Almunia complain about his lot, I have never heard him slag off the boss or his team mates. He has not sulked. He has just consistently tried to do his best for the club.

So if he does come back in a big game, let’s not give him the ironic cheer treatment and let’s remember his great moments instead of his bad ones.

Let’s forget the Spanish Waiter and Coco the Clown jokes and give him the respect and credit he deserves.

Our season may yet depend on him.


One day chicken, next day feathers – written by London and peaches

September 26, 2010

London’s analysis

It seems as though the players’ midweek celebrations went on a bit longer than we might have thought. The only thing that surprises me is that one or two didn’t take to the field carrying half empty Champagne bottles and wearing sun glasses to shield their eyes from the painful effects of the sun after a late night.

The hang over was written all over their faces; men dressed in red and white lumbered around the pitch with tired limbs, totally lacking in any sort of urgency.

The fog from their lazy minds only started to clear well into the second half after which, I can only presume, someone had the bright idea to hand out sobering black coffee and paracetamol which, although was a step in the right direction, did take time to take affect and by the time it did we were three nil down.

That must have been some party because only a shadow of the team that ripped spuds apart in the week turned up yesterday.

We were pants, arrogant pants as one “Baggie” came on the blog yesterday and rightly told us.

Peachesgooner’s conclusions

I agree London but who’s to blame?

Almunia will no doubt bear the brunt of most people’s anger but as London says, there was definitely a hang over from the players ……… oh and how about the arrogance of our fine manager for  not playing the best team available from the start.  This is not the first time that we’ve had our playmakers sat on the bench being saved for a future fixture while the those on the pitch are unable to be effectively creative. Today Jack Wilshire – undoubtedly the star of Tuesday night’s heroics against spuds – and Tomas Rosicky must have watched in agony as the first half drudged on.

Neither Song, Diaby or Eboue were finding their man. They were all passing to the ‘invisible one’. We had no control of the mid-field and there was absolutely no sign of the play that tormented the scummers the other night. How embarrassing is that? To have had even 50% of the control would have meant we were stringing some passes together instead of giving the baggies every chance of getting into the game.

And so the 2nd half came to pass and it was still nil nil. From the way we had played in the first half, unless there were changes, I couldn’t see us gaining an advantage quickly. What I didn’t see coming was the baggies on the attack and an Arsenal mid-field that just stood still and allowed them to pass through with ease. One goal conceded was quickly followed by a second and a disturbing chill descended on the stadium.  Eboue and Diaby were sacrificed for Wilshere and Rosicky – probably half an hour too late and soon we were 3 down.

Three down at the Emirates against ……… newly promoted West Bromwich Albion!!!!!!!!! You couldn’t make it up really. Was it all Almunia’s fault? I don’t think so, the  goalkeeper must be protected by the back four and the back four must be protected by the mid-field and if the mid-field had been working effectively, then we should have been in the lead anyway.

If we can’t defend as a team we’re going to struggle this season, but if we don’t send out the best team available from the start, there are always going to be other excuses. M. Wenger this one is your fault.

Jagielka, Cahill and Hart ….. a glimpse of what might have been? – written by Rasp

September 7, 2010

Written by Rasp

After Dawson’s unfortunate injury (ahheerrmm) playing against Bulgaria last Friday, we saw the defensive triangle of English players that many had wished we could have signed this summer – and I thought they looked pretty good, but then again, they weren’t up against the most testing of opposition.

Of course the idea of us signing any of those players was just unsubstantiated speculation fuelled by a national press expert at feeding the paranoia of football fans. There is no concrete evidence that these players were available, willing to move or even the subject of interest from Arsenal.

The likelihood is that all three will all play against Switzerland tonight, so we will get a second chance to assess them. Are they any better than our trio of Vermaelen, Koscielny and Allmunia?

Vermaelen and Jagielka are very similar in height and stature. Jagielka has had two very good seasons at Everton and looks comfortable in international football. He’s strong and brave, good in the air, reads the game well, experienced (he’s 28) reasonably quick and dependable – all of which applies equally to Vermaelen, who at 24 is just coming into his peak. TV has captained club and country and scores more goals than the Evertonian, so although Jagielka is a good player, all in all,  I’m very happy to have our future captain (?) at the Arsenal.

Cahill and Koscielny are physically quite different. Cahill is 6ft 2in and powerfully built. He too is very good in the air and also looked the part when he came on for England. Both are developing their game at the age of 24 and can only improve. Cahill looks a reasonable footballer, but I’d say Kozzer has the edge in that department. It will take time for Koscielny to settle into the English game but he has huge potential. I thought he was better than TV against Liverpool but was outmuscled too easily by Diouf against Blackburn. If LK can develop into a ‘TV clone’, we will have an excellent CB pairing. He is more capable of playing wengerball than Cahill and is said to be working on his strength for the physical challenges that lie ahead.

Joe Hart can do no wrong at the moment and on current form, is probably the best keeper in the Premier League. It’s too easy jump on the bandwagon and draw unflattering comparisons between Hart and Almunia, – so I’m just going to list a couple of elements of Hart’s game that make him such a good keeper. He is confident. He has very strong wrists so when he makes contact with the ball it generally flies out of the danger area. His distribution is good and he communicates well with his defence. I expect him to be England’s number one for many years.

Almunia has my full support and has made an excellent start to the season. It is obvious that his confidence is fragile, but the more decent performances he can deliver, the more assured he will become. He should take strength from his team-mates, Eboue and Bendtner, who defied their critics and won their way back into the hearts of the fans.  The resolve of the defence and willingness of all the outfield players to ‘defend as a unit’ will also play a part in Almunia’s fate. Of course he will make mistakes – all keepers do, what is more important is how he reacts to setbacks. Arsène’s policy will be to give his keeper total support and that’s the way it should be.

We will know by Christmas whether the affable Spaniard has risen to the challenge. I would suggest that he is in the last chance saloon and if his form slips, we may yet sign another keeper in the January window.

Szczesny, come on down and save our season – written by London

September 2, 2010

The idea, believed by some, that Szczesny is waiting in the wings ready to swoop down and save our season makes me laugh; in fact, I find it ridiculous.

I am as excited as anyone about his future prospects but to have him playing in the first team now on the back of one good season at Brentford is foolish beyond hope.

Yes, I am aware of all the glowing reports from our west London neighbours, one of my best friends is a season ticket holder and was telling me that the commonly held view was that he is the best goalkeeper they have ever seen. The trouble with that is, I couldn’t help asking myself, when I first heard it, when was the last time that they had a decent player in their ranks to really compare him with. To say that the bar is set at a low level is an understatement of some magnitude. This is Brentford we are talking about not Juventus or some such club where he would have got a real test.

This situation reminds me of the time a couple seasons ago when Denilson had just started to appear in the CC; he played alongside Diaby in many games and shone. The Brazilian was hailed as yet another hidden gem uncovered by Wenger and demands of first team football were the order of the day.

Denilson got the chance to play in the League; in fact, he has played so many games familiarity has bred contempt to the point where his performances are now criticised as is Wenger for picking him.

What many people have forgotten is the reason he got his chance in the first place and why he has played so many games is due to injuries and not as many people perceive to be Wenger’s obstinacy. The Brazilian initially made it into the first team because of injuries to Diaby and Gilberto and it is worth remembering that when Bert returned he was pants so Denilson rightly moved up the pecking order. With the re-emergence of Diaby, Denilson has moved back down; although, the more observant will have noticed that when Ramsey was fit the Brazilian was behind him on the bench. We could debate this until the ends of the earth but the point I am making is that, although, Denilson got his chance due to some impressive performances in the CC he got most of them due to injuries.  I expect Denilson to now evolve into the first team at a more suitable pace.

The connection between Szczesny and Denilson is that I see the same fate waiting just around the corner for the Pole as the young Brazilian has endured; a couple of immature slips and people will be calling for his head.

We are in the doldrums of a two week International break, there are blogs out there that pride themselves on putting out a fresh post every day, nothing wrong with that except as the days slowly roll by it gets harder and harder to find something positive to say and the temptation to take the far easier option of negativity becomes greater and greater; but, just before that stage arrives blogs try and play the, we should give the youngsters a go, card and it never ceases to surprise me how many people are only too eager to jump on the band wagon.

Szczesny will be called for by people who care more about their blogs than they do about the good of Arsenal, it will be your choice as to whether you agree — I don’t — too much expectation too early in a career can be very damaging, just ask Denilson.

Written by London, picture by Rasp.