We’ll start today with the news that Arsenal have announced the release of 7 players, the most high profile of which is Manuel Almunia whose contract expires this summer.
The others are Gavin Hoyte, who follows his brother Justin out of the club, and youngsters George Brislen-Hall, Sean McDermott, Rhys Murphy, James Campbell and Jeffrey Monakana. Before we come to Almunia, I guess you have to spare a thought for young players who don’t make the grade. They’ll leave with a fine education and prospects of playing to some decent level, but imagine having the chance to prove yourself at Arsenal and not being quite good enough.
Maybe I’m coming at it differently, as a fan, but it’d be heartbreaking all the same. Still, the game is littered with players who were released by us before they made the grade and who went on to have good careers, at Premier League level too. Despite their disappointment, they’ve still got plenty to work for.
As for Almunia, I’ve seen reactions range from sympathy and thanks, to full on Internet Rage and abuse. He was an exceptionally popular member of the first team squad and by all accounts an extremely nice man. Which is pretty much irrelevant when assessing his position as Arsenal’s number 1 for so long. I thought he proved himself as a reasonable Premier League keeper for a good season and a half but there was always the suspicion that the Almunia who came to the club first, scatty and liable to make a mistake, wasn’t lurking too far beneath the surface.
Ultimately though, he wasn’t ever good enough on a consistent basis to be the main goalkeeper at a club like Arsenal. It’s telling that his best spell came when he still had the threat of Jens Lehmann to contend with (that’d keep anyone on their toes) and with Fabianski just as error prone I wonder if there was an element, subconsciously at least, of playing in a comfort zone.
Yet his time at number 1 seemed very much an Arsene Wenger project. He picked up a bargain option from Celta Vigo and tried to mould him into a player that he was never really capable of being. On his day a fine shot stopper, no doubt about it, and his record from penalties was more than decent. But he was always capable of an error, usually when he decided he’d venture off his line to sweep up, or try anything unorthodox, and as the errors increased the confidence dropped and it spiraled downwards from there.
I remember on an Arsecast way back when, Amy Lawrence making the point that the weaknesses our keepers had seemed to be consistent. What Almunia would do, Fabianski would do also. The lack of command in the area, the positional errors, the way they’d get bullied at times, and perhaps that was something to do with the coaching. Of course the same coaches are present now and Szczesny is a much more confident character and you can see how that transmits itself to the team.
Anyway, for me, the main thing to consider is that Almunia wasn’t the one who picked himself for the team every week. It’s easy to slag off a player for his mistakes – which he has to take responsibility for, of course – but he doesn’t sit there and choose himself. With hindsight it’s easy to assess a player and say he didn’t quite have the quality, but many said it at the time with Almunia too yet Arsene persisted. And persisted to the point where, like Squillaci, we had a player whose confidence is so shot he becomes a passenger and nigh on useless to the squad.
So while he’ll never go down as my favourite Arsenal goalkeeper, and I understand the fact people are happy to see the back of him, I don’t harbour any ill-will towards him and I wish him well wherever he goes and whatever he does. And let’s not forget that without Manuel, we wouldn’t have this quite awesome picture of two new guys having their first photograph taken when joining the club back in the summer of 2004.
The rest of the papers this morning are going large on the ‘clearout’ of players, saying Dick Law and Order is working it big time to get rid of them in the next two weeks. The names are as you’d expect, Vela, Bendtner, Denilson, Djourou, Fabianski, Chamakh, Arshavin and others. Djourou aside, no real surprises there, and it’s as much educated guesswork as anything else. We know these players are on the fringes, some of them have said they want to leave, and we may have to get creative to get rid of some.
The suggestion that any signings are dependent on making space in the squad strikes me as off the mark too. While I fully accept the need to clear the decks a bit, that shouldn’t impact on what we’re trying to do in terms of bringing new players in. For me the focus must be first on improving our team, secondly on squad management. The two things can be done side by side, of course, and hopefully that’s what’ll happen.
In other news Jack Wilshere’s surgery went ‘according to plan‘, says the doctor who carried it out. The recovery time of 2-3 months suggests it wasn’t quite as minor as we first thought but it still gives him time to be ready for the start of the season, something the club are stressing this morning. Fingers crossed that’s the end of his injury nightmare now and we see hm back in red and white sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, Owen Coyle wants Ryo Miyaichi back at Bolton on loan next season, which makes a lot of sense. I think he’s still too raw to be anything other than Carling Cup fodder for us and a season in the Championship would certainly toughen him up. And Wojciech Szczesny says his shoulder is fine ahead of the Euros, and reveals an interesting use of the phrase ‘John Terry’.
Finally, a press round-up of the season makes for interesting reading over on We are the North Bank.
Back here tomorrow.