Before I say anything else I will acknowledge that I completely understand why many fans wanted a new goalkeeper. Yes, we’ve seen mistakes by our keepers, some of which were really poor. So I can relate to the demand for a new keeper.
But saying we need a new keeper and getting the right guy are not the same thing. Almunia, Fabianski, and Mannone have all made some mistakes. So who can guarantee that a fourth guy will actually do better? In order to answer that we cannot just rely on silly statements like, “anyone is better than Almunia and Fabianski.” Fans can say that but a man who has to make the decision cannot.
I’ve given this issue a great deal of thought and analyzed plenty of goals that we’ve conceded in a great deal of detail. I showed the Keepers were not the primary culprits at Birmingham and Blackburn last year and I’ve done this analysis for many other goals but didn’t have the time to create an article for each game. My conclusion is that our Keepers are not perfect but we’ve much bigger defensive problems that leave our Keepers with an extremely difficult job. This has been my stance on this issue for the last few months.
One issue that many raise about the Keepers is flapping. My theory has always been that Almunia, Fabianski, and Mannone have been forced into coming for balls that others Keepers leave to their defenders. If our defenders deal with most of the balls into the box the Keepers will be able to focus on their jobs better. We saw clear evidence of this in the last game against Blackburn when Almunia rarely came out for a corner or a throw and our defenders/midfielders dealt with most of the balls in the penalty area. That allowed Almunia to maintain his focus and he did well each time he had to act – catching, punching, coming out to clear, and distribution (First goal came from a quick free kick he took just after he was fouled).
Our defending at Ewood Park wasn’t exceptional but it got us a result. I see that as a step in the right direction. Our title chances will depend a lot on our collective defending and although the keeper will be an important part of that, he should never be the main protagonist.
I don’t care much about the no-hopers who just wait for a chance to attack Arsenal and Wenger. They’ve just got new reasons to moan over this issue but their moronic groaning will be harmless as long as the majority of the fans can maintain their perspective.
It is interesting to note that while many wanted a new Keeper there is no consensus on who is or isn’t good enough. I’ve seen plenty of comments which said Schwarzer was no better than Almunia (I agree with that), I’ve seen plenty of comments saying we should have signed Given but also some that said Given was no better than our keepers as far as aerial presence goes (Stewart Robson explained this well and I did an article last year that exposed Given’s woes in three games against Stoke), there were some who didn’t think Stekelenburg was that good after a series of errors in the World Cup, and same can be said about many other Keepers.
Does that mean there is no Keeper better than the ones we have? No. It just means that it’s easy to say someone is not good but very difficult to establish that someone else is a significant improvement. And once you do find one who you like there is no guarantee that the transfer will work out unless you’ve the kind of cash City have.
I believe the single biggest factor (apart from training and getting the system right) that will determine how our defence performs this year will be confidence. Unfortunately, the anti-Arsenal media and pundits, along with the misery brigade, have successfully created an air of uncertainty about our defence. I’m not saying our defence (including Keepers) was great but constant criticism has certainly created some negative vibes and ultimately that does affect the players’ confidence. The saddest aspect is that nowadays people actively look for reasons to blame the Goalkeeper even when he isn’t the real culprit. More than the technical aspects that was the reason I supported a new Keeper signing. It would have been a confidence booster but we can live without it.
From what I’ve seen in the three games this year and the whole of last year most teams have keepers who are not better than the ones we have. If you really think about it, most often when a keeper gets accolades for a Premiership performance it’s because of his shot-stopping i.e. the number of saves he makes. I’ve not seen a single goalkeeper so far who has punched or claimed most of the balls put in the box. And established keepers like Reina and Howard have actually cost their team some points because they couldn’t deal with an aerial ball. Even Cech has been caught in a no man’s land quite often but his defence has bailed him out.
As far as the second keeper goes, I think Fabianski is far better than Hilario, Cudicini and Kuszczak. Seriously, think about it. Or just look at the Wigan goal against Cudicini, or any game in which Hilario has been the keeper.
Obviously, Wenger and his team have also worked on this. They identified some targets but it didn’t work out. I don’t really buy the three months arguments because Man City had three months and unlimited resources but they got a rollicking against the Tinies and lost to Sunderland. If you say Wenger had three months to do something you’ve to explain how City dropped 5 points in their first three games. Bottom-line is, it will never be as simple as signing as cheque.
Clearly, Arsenal have also changed their approach to defending the aerial balls. We saw much better contribution from our outfield players at Ewood Park and I’m convinced our Keepers can do well if we sort out the organization, awareness and concentration issues in front of them.
Undoubtedly, naysayers will be out in hordes and will scrutinize every mistake in great detail. They’ll also find faults where none exist. We’ve exposed ourselves to this nuisance, but if the team remains focussed and we get the defensive training right, it will be nothing more than a nuisance.
As Song showed last year and Walcott is showing this year, the best way to answer the critics is with performances on the pitch. They’ll need a little help with a positive atmosphere at the stadium and I’m hoping most of the Emirates faithful will get behind the team.