Today is the first in a series of posts reviewing Arsenal’s 2008/09 season. This review will look at every facet of the Arsenal squad from the goalkeepers, defence, midfield and attack right up to the performance of the man in charge, Arsene Wenger. First up today though, the Arsenal goalkeepers get a grilling as I look back at the performances of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski as well as pondering the need to change anything.
With a series of consistently strong performances the Spanish goalkeeper became not only the clear first-choice goalkeeper at Arsenal, but a rather excellent one at that. He has been calm and assured with his hands this season, made very few mistakes and produced a number of game-saving performances. He became an official leader in the squad too, captaining the side on a number of occasions and establishing a good relationship with his fellow players.
There will always be people that criticise Almunia for his past efforts – the 4-2 loss to United back in 2005, the Champions League final loss to Barcelona – but the simple fact is that he has become one of the top four goalkeepers in England. Over this season he has easily been the measure of the goalkeepers in the other ‘big three’ clubs and has been, in my opinion, the most consistent and reliable of the four. In fact, in terms of consistency he has arguably been Arsenal’s strongest performer this season.
Almunia will start next season as Arsenal’s undisputed No 1, and rightly so too.
I think it’s fair to say that Fabianski’s performances this year have been extremely erratic and very disappointing. He appears a goalkeeper who is capable of making spectacular saves but has so often ruined that ability with an almost possessive need to command the penalty area and beyond.
With Almunia the leading goalkeeper at the club, most of Fabianski’s chances this season came in the FA and Carling Cups. He performed reasonably well during the early stages, making some great saves and keeping a handful of clean sheets. However, when Almunia injured himself against Villarreal and Fabianski was promoted to the first team, he struggled to handle the pressure.
Fabianski’s style of dashing out of the box to play as a virtual sweeper worked well against Villarreal, but failed miserably against Wigan in the Premier League and Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final in particular. It is sad that his season will be remembered for being rounded well outside the area by Didier Drogba but his willingness to shoulder the blame shows he has quite a mature head on his shoulders.
My opinion is that Fabianski is not yet ready to be given the No 1 spot by the manager. While it is fair to say that his performances would improve if given a consistent run in the side, the truth is that his decision-making is far from perfect and he is far too erratic when dealing with the high ball. He remains a fantastic shot-stopper and as a young goalkeeper has time well and truly on his side, but I do worry about the prospect of him being relied upon in the event of Almunia sustaining any sort of long-term injury.
In short, no. Almunia has become a top-quality goalkeeper and as long as he stays fit then this area of the team is looking good. Fabianski is a raw talent and has much room to improve but at 24 has plenty of time on his side and is a decent understudy.
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