My first thought after the Wigan game in which we fashioned an unlikely defeat in large part due to an error by Fabianski was that Wenger was wrong to put him into that game but maybe it was less of a reactive decision than I at first thought. If Almunia was genuinely injured then Wenger would have had no real choice but there was a suspicion following the defeat at WHL that with an outside chance of the title gone if Fabianski was to be allowed a run then this would have to be the time.
His performance in the CL game away to Porto didn`t help his confidence or any confidence in him but there wasn`t a great deal to lose in terms of our league position either. Had we won all the remaining PL matches after the Spurs game we would still have only managed 3rd place. It would be the sort of calculation Wenger would have made in deciding to risk a reputation damaged in Portugal in the belief Fabianski could redeem himself. If Wenger was to make a decision in the summer upon recruiting another keeper it would have been important to take advantage of the last 4 PL games of the season to test Lukasz in competitive match conditions without risking anything other than the ire of followers of the club. The results wouldn`t have helped him greatly.
In a perverse way the errors Fabianski made in the games against Wigan and Blackburn could be seen as more encouraging than a fundamental flaw in technique or decision making might be. They were handling errors which you would expect could be remedied if confidence could be acquired but that would only ever come about by accepting the mistakes in games that have no consequence in return for the opportunity to learn a lesson. The problems he encountered in the Blackburn game were ones that Lehmann struggled with throughout his Arsenal career without ever really mastering. That aside his performance at Blackburn was good with some technically very good saves.
David Seaman, 3 times a title winner with Arsenal, feels that Wenger might stay with both Fabianski and Almunia next season. Web site Sports.co.uk claims in an exclusive interview that Seaman told them:
“They`re still learning, especially Fabianski – people forget how young he is. He`s a great talent but he still needs to develop his all round game. It will come with age, but he`s certainly a talent.
“Then you look at Almunia who has all the experience…I think he`s going to have a problem in keeping Fabianski out. It`s great though to have competition for that one spot, Arsenal need it to be competitive as it will bring out the best in them.
“I think he`ll stay with the first choice pair he has at the moment. If you include Vito [Mannone] he`s got three with first team experience.
“Then you look at Wojciech Szczesny coming through and you have to say he`s a fascinating prospect. I think he may be a little young to throw straight into the first team as being in goal for Arsenal is very different to being in goal at Brentford. He is a great, great talent though – so Arsene`s got four top players at his disposal.
“I don`t know for sure what he`ll do but I accept it`s a tough situation when the fans are calling for change.”
The threatened protests next season if Arsenal haven`t signed another keeper won`t persuade Wenger to sign someone just to appease discontented followers which suggests that if he does sign anyone it would have to be one with a proven pedigree at a high level rather than players like Joe Hart who despite a good season with Birmingham would still be less proven than Almunia. If he can`t command a place in the Manchester City squad in front of Given why would we imagine he would fare any better at the Emirates?
If a keeper is to be signed then as Wenger did with the then 34 year old Lehmann he would be safer in terms of supporter credibility in opting for an experienced and established player with a notable CV to replace Almunia whose lack of playing credentials has and will always be counted against him. That would still leave Fabianski space and the time his relative youth allows to convince those that the calamities can be eliminated in the hope that the much lauded Szczesny will eventually realise the potential that many see in him. Both need someone else to bear the weight of expectation which has proved such a burden for Almunia.
It would be brave, though not untypical, of Wenger to go into next season with the same keepers but maybe this is an occasion when it makes sense to give the discontented what they want and sign an international keeper with a proven track record just to take the heat off that aspect of the team. There would be little point in signing another promising keeper without the badges on his arm that would allow his errors to be dismissed as readily as they would for a keeper with a ‘name’. Finding such a keeper is easier said than done. I don’t suppose David James would provide quite the same excitement in the playground that signing Buffon might do but how many such keepers are there? It would mean the sacrifice of a decent keeper in Almunia who in many ways might seem a better number two at present than Fabianski but if it`s ever right to offer a ritual bloodletting to followers then that would be the one that would have to be made.
It’s a cruel game. There will still be no gain without pain for Fabianski but maybe for Almunia pain relief will be the more pragmatic act though replacing him with someone demonstrably better rather than potentially better isn`t as straightforward as we might wish it to be. We already have potential enough.
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