The decision to field Manonne against Fulham was an easy one to make at the time. Almunia was unavailable and Fabianski injured. Other than Szczesny, who made the bench for the game, Wenger had no option but to pick him. Would he have done so if Almunia had not been genuinely poorly? I doubt it. If he had wanted to send a message to Almunia he would have waited until Fabianski was fit surely? Yet, though a chest infection can take a while to clear up, particularly bronchial infections, Almunia has been passed over for the last two games.
At yesterday`s AGM Arsene claimed he was happy with all his keepers. Telling the audience, in response to a question asking whether our keepers were good enough, that “Yes I believe we have [enough quality]. Goalkeeper is a very difficult position. Why? It is the only position where you have only negative stress. People speak only about you when you have made a mistake.”
Paradoxically Mannone`s current incumbency owes much to an eye-catching series of reflex saves in the Fulham match which helped cover a number of positional and decision making errors. In this case Mannone`s experience is the polar opposite to that described by Wenger. People were only too willing to overlook unpunished mistakes and praise the saves he did make. Especially as the victory was a narrow one. The games that followed had a far greater margin for error as mistakes in the games against Blackburn and Birmingham were lost in comprehensive wins. That Mannone is a raw talent is clear and the experiences he has gained will serve him in good stead. Though it is hard to see what he might have gained, largely as a spectator, against Alkmaar it is another record on his CV.
Unfortunately for Almunia he has no CV to speak of and that’s a handicap he has laboured under in some eyes. How is it possible to be a top flight keeper at 32 without having ever received international recognition at any level or played at another significant club is the thinking. Some claim that he hasn`t been convincing in the opening games but frankly most keepers at the leading PL clubs have had their share of embarrassments this season. Almunia hasn`t performed any better or worse than most others.
Wenger has often seemed not to entirely trust young keepers. Though Seaman survived for 6 seasons under Le Boss none of his understudies from Manninger through to Wright, Taylor and Shaban ever managed to usurp a keeper whose very best years seemed to be behind him. Seaman finally left the club in 2003 a few months short of his 40th birthday as another senior keeper passed him on the way in. Instead of promoting a younger player nurtured as a replacement, as Wenger has often sort to do with outfield players, he went out and bought a senior replacement in the then 34 year old Lehmann who became an invincible in his first season. When Lehmann`s entertaining but sometimes frustrating capacity to foul up became too much to bear 30 year old Almunia took 38 year old Lehmann`s place.
Is Wenger about to entrust the season to the hands of 21 year old Mannone or 24 year old Fabianski? Wenger appears to avoid letting his keepers become too secure or complacent in their position perhaps believing they operate best outside a comfort zone. His next team selection will not tell us how happy he is with his most senior keeper but it will surely tell us just how unhappy he is with him.
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