Date: 2nd January 2008 at 2:19pm
Written by:

I have to be honest and say that December`s player of the month award was a very difficult choice with no real outstanding candidates. Due to the heavy fixture congestion, injuries and rotation have decreed that few players have played a significant enough number of games. For instance, the respective form of Fabregas and Hleb has been blighted by injury this month and both appear to have taken time to fins their way back. Usual suspects such as Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna have played more than most, but have been solid more than remarkable. William Gallas and Mathieu Flamini were also in my thoughts after another series of consistent performances.

However, my choice this month would have to be Manuel Almunia. In November, he was critically savaged by all and sundry for his mistake against Manchester United and somewhere, there was a marooned German whose lips probably cracked into a half smile. Having also been criticised by one of his colleagues, Almunia came into December on tricky territory, with his supporters not yet completely won over by him. But his reaction has been a real credit his character and determination to consolidate a place in the side. His form has been very solid in the month of December, even if Arsenal have struggled to recapture the fluency of early autumn (though they have picked up the results). In the three away games at Villa, Boro and Newcastle, he has not been at fault for any of the goals conceded. In fact, for the duration of the month, I cannot think of a goal we have conceded he might have stopped.

But Almunia stands out amongst the other candidates owing to two excellent displays in the middle of the month. In the Chelsea game, a couple of impressive saves from Shevchenko efforts and a deflected Wright Phillips shot helped us to power to a crucial 1-0 victory. But Almunia`s stock really rose in the North London derby. With Arsenal playing exceptionally badly, Berbatov`s terrific effort had levelled the scores and when Toure brought the aforementioned to the floor with seventeen minutes remaining, Spurs first North London derby win post electricity looked odds on. Robbie Keane, having been successful with his seven previous spot kicks, stepped up and attempted some kidology with a stop and a shuffle in his run up. Almunia stood firm, unfazed by the mallet headed motor mouth`s antics and beat out his weak spot kick. Sixty seconds later, Nicklas Bendtner headed home the winner. It was a stellar contribution and one that we might look back on in May with the same relish as we do Lauren`s pea roller penalty kick in 2002. Somewhere a grumbling German had cause to re evaluate his assertion that, “Almunia has not won us any big games.” The Spaniard`s stature has grown to the point that his presence on the team sheet is generally accepted, and Lehmann looks all set to depart this month. If he does, he might have cause to reconsider another ill advised comment come May, “Almunia has never won us any titles.”LD.