Manuel? No I'm not well, actually.

This post is brought to you by a hearty dose of *boilk*

Manuel Almunia has never struck me as the cheeriest person alive. I’m sure at home, with his missus and his miniature yorkie, he’s of a much more genial disposition, but when appearing for Arsenal or talking about Arsenal he often has the look of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

This could be due to many things. He might take it all very seriously indeed and if that’s the case I can find no fault whatsoever. It might be that he’s had media training from a very stern person and that has rubbed off on him. Or it might be that there’s rarely enough time between his good performances and his less good ones to enjoy himself, cognisant as he is of his own failings.

So at the moment, with much speculation over the goalkeeping position at the club, he’s even more mournful looking than a basset hound locked outside of a room filled with cheese. He says:

It is so difficult. Arsenal is a big club and speculation is always in the news and everywhere. The only thing I can do is keep working because I have a contract here and I have to do what the manager wants from me. I have not spoken to him. If somebody comes in, I will have to talk about my future at Arsenal. That is it.

I don’t see anything else outside Arsenal. It will be very, very difficult to play for another team in England if it wasn’t Arsenal.

He’s been with us since 2004 now so his loyalty to the club is understandable and quite admirable. I can also understand how the speculation would be unsettling. It can’t be easy to read the papers and see story after story about Schwarzer or Given but that’s the life of a professional footballer at a big club like Arsenal. Unless you can achieve and maintain a level of performance you’re always going to find yourself under the microscope.

If we had anything approaching a decent alternative at the club you can be sure the press would be speculating about him grabbing the number 1 shirt from Almunia. Manuel knows well enough how it works too. When Jens Lehmann made two high profile mistakes at the beginning of the 2007-8 season the press went to town on him and the Spaniard benefitted. He was installed in goal and kept his place for the rest of the season.

Jens Lehmann was a more experienced, more high profile, and better goalkeeper than Almunia, yet when his standards slipped he was replaced. Almunia spent two seasons putting the ghosts of his early Arsenal career to bed and developed into a decent Premier League keeper. He has his faults, they all do, but for the most part he was good enough. Last season he regressed. He made mistakes, he lost confidence, that transmitted itself to the team, he spent time out with ‘sickness’, his standards dropped.

Out he went and in came Lukasz Fabianski who was given a wonderful opportunity to make a career as Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper. We all know what happened. Let’s be very clear – the only reason Almunia played on Sunday was because a) Fabianski was so amazingly, mind-numbingly, consistently awful and b) we haven’t managed to do a deal for a new goalkeeper.

He played at Anfield because he was the best keeper we have. Or, perhaps, the least worst. He knows first hand that professional sport is a ruthless business. I don’t think he’s necessarily throwing in the towel when he says he’ll talk about his Arsenal future when the time comes. I think he’s just being realistic. He doesn’t strike me as unintelligent. He knows fine well that the goalkeeping situation at the club can only be resolved by bringing in a new player.

If, at his age, he’s not willing to sit on the bench, then I completely understand that. The Winston Bogardes of this world are few and far between thankfully (I suspect a good percentage of them are at Man City right now) and to go from being Arsenal’s number 1 to occasional sub is not going to be much fun. As I said, I think he’d be decent back-up for whoever came in, certainly nobody could complain about someone who keeps Fabianski further away from first team action, but his time as first choice for Arsenal is well and truly over and he knows it.

There are whispers that we’ll sort out the Schwarzer deal before the weekend. I would suggest that the talk of Shay Given is little more than people putting two and two together and getting five. I would quite literally eat my hat* if Given signed for us.

Elsewhere AW says Marouane Chamakh’s bravery brought about the equaliser against Liverpool. It’s a fair point – he attacked the ball in a way that few Arsenal players in the last few years have done. I thought his debut wasn’t bad, we didn’t see any of the aerial prowess he’s renowned for, but that moment when challenging Reina brought about a welcome and fumbly equaliser. It’s the kind of challenge people make around our goalkeepers all the time and we know how effective it can be. More, please.

Jay Simpson could join Hull City this week. Poor lad. I know he’s got too much in front of him to make it at Arsenal but he doesn’t deserve that. Hopefully it’ll be just a stepping stone to somewhere decent. Meanwhile, Sanchez Watt, what?, seems to be settling in nicely at dirty Leeds.

And that’s just about that. Time for all the painkillers and a day of wishing it was tomorrow.

* it’s a pork pie hat, literally.


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