Keepers and desire

There was a curiosity to last season in that we stayed in the title race despite some very poor results. It seemed that just as United and Chelsea looked to be getting ahead of us they’d drop points.

This weekend something similar went on. We could be sitting here this morning 7 points behind Chelsea and 3 behind United. Instead it’s 4 and 1. United scraped a draw at the Reebok while we know Chelsea lost at Man City. It doesn’t make up for our abject performance on Saturday but nonetheless it’s very welcome.

There’s not much time for us to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves as we play Partizan Belgrade tomorrow evening. The team will be travelling today and away from the media glare, which might not be a bad thing. Back ‘home’ though the fall-out from Saturday continues.

There are countless articles about Manuel Almunia, George Graham says we need an ‘outstanding goalkeeper’ and the Spaniard finds himself well and truly in the firing line. The problem, of course, is that the transfer window does not open for over three months and there’s a lot of football to be played between now and then. The nominal first and second choice keepers fill few with any confidence. Many fans are sick to the back teeth of watching them make mistakes. Almunia made a simple catch late in the West Brom game and this was greeted by ‘ironic’ cheers from some sections of the crowd. I can understand people wanting to express their frustration but it’s not going to do much for a man whose confidence has always been somewhat fragile.

Behind him there’s Lukasz Fabianski, fresh from his latest howler at White Hart Lane. The manager tried to defend him for it but anyone who saw it knows the Pole was at fault for the goal, regardless of the fact that Keane was offside. The manager’s declarations about him being ‘world class’ are insulting now. Buffon is a world class goalkeeper, Casillas is a world class goalkeeper, Fabianski, by that measure, is a remedial class goalkeeper. When you make a mistake every time you go out to do your job that means that you’re just not very good at it. There’s not a great deal more analysis needed than that.

Waiting in the wings are Vito Mannone and Wojscez©®. At least one of them would have expected some Carling Cup involvement. It’s normal to play the nominal number 2 but generally he has his 3rd or 4th choice keeper on the bench. At WHL he had Almunia on the bench which was, I imagine, some form of insurance lest Fabianski have a total meltdown. We know the younger Pole is unhappy, nobody’s heard a thing from Mannone which is probably just as well.

Of the two I think it’s clear Wojscez©® has more potential but might well have scored a bit of an own goal with his recent outburst. Had he kept his mouth shut and watched both Fabianski and then Almunia play like that I think the manager might have given him more serious consideration. Would it display a weakness on Arsene’s part to throw him in now, as if it were the outburst that made him change his mind? Certainly no more of a weakness than continuing to play two players who let him down time and time again but the situation has been made awkward.

If it were up to me I’d be very tempted to give him a go despite his lack of experience. There’s only so long you can keep ‘faith’ with players who cost you goals and games and points. It realigns expectations also. If Almunia or Fabianski makes a mistake you add it to their lengthy list and wonder when they’re going to learn. If Wojscez©® makes a mistake then it’s part of the learning process and much more understandable.

It’s a risk blooding inexperienced keepers, especially with the fixtures we’ve got coming up, but equally it’s a risk continuing to play the haunted looking Spaniard or the basically inept Fabianski. While going to Stamford Bridge on Sunday with a 20 year old doesn’t instill me with a huge amount of confidence, nor does either of the other two options.

Personally, I think he’s going to stick with what he’s got. He’s ultra-cautious when it comes to his goalkeepers. I don’t think Jens would have been dropped if the only option was a rookie like Wojscez©®. I think Almunia will play tomorrow night and barring some kind of disaster/injury I think he’ll play on Sunday too. If there’s any hint of a change it might be that we see a change in the number 2 but if I had to put money on it I’d lay it down on Almunia and Fabianski being 1 & 2 until January at the earliest. We might not like it but there it is.

Anyway, in a totally non-scientific poll let’s see who you would pick – there’s a poll here open till Tuesday midnight. Go vote.

The goalkeeping thing is obviously a big issue right now but of more concern to the manager will be the lethargic, careless performance against West Brom on Saturday. It was sadly reminiscent of the displays at the end of last season and coming so early into this one it’s a huge worry. The reason teams win things is not simply because of their talent or ability as footballers. Their attitude and hunger for trophies plays a massive part as well.

Too often we look like a team that is missing that. Playing 10 men at home in the sunshine, a 6 goal stroll, no bother. Classic flat track bullies. When the chips are down, when we need to buck ourselves up and dig out a result, there are too few players willing to take any responsibility. At 3-0 down we found some spark yet only Samir Nasri seemed to respond the way you would expect. I don’t mean the others were standing watching but it looked as if they were waiting for someone else to try and make something happen.

Alex Song, who worked hard to overcome a horrible start to his Arsenal career, and a start which wasn’t entirely his fault, seems to have lost sight of what he’s best at. Strolling forward as if he’s some kind of elegant playmaker and neglecting his defensive duties meant our defence, already having an off-day, was left exposed. I’m not suggesting it’s all his fault by any means but it’s symptomatic of this crop of players. The leash is too loose. They need reminding time and time again of the basics.

You simply will not win anything unless every single player works as hard as they can and gives you the clichéd, but crucial, 100% in each game. That wasn’t the case on Saturday against West Brom and we saw how easily you can be punished. I know it was only one defeat and there’s the danger of overreacting but anyone who has watched this team regularly surely can’t help but be worried that the old problems are resurfacing. For me that’s much more of a worry than who plays in goal.

There’s the chance to react tomorrow night and to get ourselves back on the horse, so to speak. It’s always a good thing to have another game so quickly after a disappointing result. Let’s hope the players are properly focussed and have had their arses well and truly kicked. It’d be no less than they deserve.

Till tomorrow.

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