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Can Arsenal win the league with Almunia in goal

Can Arsenal win the League with Almunia in goal?

by Paul Collins

A couple of weeks ago I saw an article in a major newspaper that asked the question “Can Arsenal win the League with Manuel Almunia?”  The writer concluded that Arsenal could not win the Championship with Almunia playing in goal. The writer used the example of Nottingham Forest in the late-1970’s as “proof” of his assertion.

In case you are too young to remember, in 1977 Nottingham Forest were promoted to the 1st Division (the equivalent of the Premier League back then) and had Brian Clough as manager. One of the first things he did was buy Peter Shilton, who was then England’s No. 1 goalkeeper (along with Ray Clemence – this was a time when England produced fine goalkeepers). Nottingham Forest famously won the League Championship with a watertight defence and for years afterwards Clough maintained it was the best bit of business he ever did as a manager. Because of this, the writer of the aforementioned article decided that EVERY League Championship winning side needs a great goalkeeper, and additionally mentioned Schmeichel, Seaman, and Cech as further examples of the solidity of his deduction.

Something bothered me about this assertion, however. A name kept coming into my mind over and over and over again. Those who followed football in the 1980’s will probably know straight away the name I am going to reveal in a moment.

Bruce Grobbelaar.

Bruce Grobbelaar won 6 Championships, 3 FA Cups, 3 League Cups and 1 European Cup with Liverpool. He was NOT a great goalkeeper. In fact, Grobbelaar’s various mistakes and blunders were legendary among supporters. It was always said that it was lucky he had such a great personality, because otherwise the Liverpool supporters would hate him. But Grobbelaar was a shot stopper, pure and simple, and had a great team in front of him.

However, the thought of Grobbelaar made me want to look further into this idea that you can only win the League with a great goalkeeper. It isn’t as clear-cut as we seem to be told it is by “people who know”.

Of course there are the obvious examples such as Schmeichel, Seaman and Cech. Before that you could include Ray Clemence in the 1970’s for Liverpool. Maybe you could even add Van Der Saar and Jens Lehman to the list. But in many of these cases, it quickly becomes clear that these guys played on great TEAMS, many of which would have won the League with anyone playing goalkeeper.

Let’s face it, Tom Thumb could have played in goal for Chelsea last season and they would have won the Championship (and have we all forgotten all the criticism Cech got for his numerous mistakes in the first half of last year? The criticism stopped but how much of that was due to the fact that Chelsea scored 4 goals a game in the 2nd half?). Manchester United in the 1990’s were similarly miles ahead of everyone else (until AW came along).

But what about the case of Tim Flowers (Blackburn), John Lukic (Arsenal AND Leeds Utd), Colin Boulton (Derby County), Jimmy Rimmer (Aston Villa), Gary Sprake (Leeds Utd), and Alex Stepney (Manchester Utd)? The list goes on and on. These are not bad goalkeepers by any means, and some of them would be regarded as very good goalkeepers. But none of the above names would be called “great” by even the most biased fans. And yet they were all goalkeepers for Championship winning sides.

Rather than a Championship winning side needing a great goalkeeper, what seems instead to be the case is that teams often win the Championship when a previously average or “decent” goalkeeper has a great season amidst a career of normalcy. What is instead true is that you cannot win the League with a goalkeeper having a “bad” season. That is a subtle but important distinction. Last season, our goalkeepers were bad. We did not win the League. I see a much clearer connection there.

Take the case of Tim Flowers, one of the most recent examples. Many will say “oh, but he won England caps” and that would be true. But he won England caps on the back of his one great season, Blackburn’s Championship season, and never again did he come anywhere those heights. For that one glorious season he was able to raise his game to its highest level and sustain that excellence. This is a common occurrence in English Football history.

So, if it isn’t quite as clear-cut as we previously assumed, we should return to the basic question. Can Arsenal win the League with Manuel Almunia in goal? The obvious answer to this question is “not if he has a bad season” but that would be the answer to the same question for 98% of the Championship winners in history. Only a few sides (Chelsea last year perhaps, Liverpool in 1987-88 etc) have been so far ahead of the rest of the League as to make it irrelevant who played in goal. But the answer “not if he has a bad season” suddenly presents to us a mirror image that seems far more optimistic.

Instead, we could in fact answer “yes, Arsenal could win the League with Manuel Almunia if he has a great season”. And remember, before the comments go crazy, I am not saying that Manuel Almunia has to become a “great goalkeeper” for a season. I just don’t think he has that in him. I am simply saying that Manuel Almunia has to have, for him, a great season. If so, then there is absolutely no reason that Arsenal cannot win the Championship this year with Manuel in goal.

It is easy for us to believe these clichés that are thrown around with ease. You can’t win with kids. You can’t win without a great ‘keeper. You can’t win without a great target man. Some are truer than others. Great goalkeepers undoubtedly help, of that there is no doubt. But it isn’t necessary. So much is dependent on the players around the goalkeeper, the style of football that is played, the number of goals scored. Instead it is merely necessary that a ‘keeper plays well for that season, and so far Manuel Almunia has had a pretty decent start. We should support him now and keep his confidence high, because there is no historical reason to think that we are unable to win with him in goal for us.

Wenger: has he done it again.  Walter Broeckx considers our defence after the Braga game.

Isn’t Carlos Vela a bit too old to be playing for Arsenal. Tony Attwood at the match

Have we really improved? An early comparison between seasons

The comparison: If injuries are bad now, was it much better in the past?  90 years ago our keeper had to play at left back with a damaged wrist.  40,000 turned up to watch.

34 comments to Can Arsenal win the league with Almunia in goal

  • Dark Prince

    I would disagree with you. Its not true that Chelsea would hav won last year’s title if sum1 else was there in their gk position. Maybe they would have won many games but eventually their gk wud hav made some costly errors and maybe they might end up a few points short to win the title. A goalkeeper’s position is highly underrated.

    Also i dont think its just about a matter of gk for Arsenal’s title success. It was a combination of some goalkeeping errors, lots of injuries and lack of depth in the squad and too many old defenders. I think the depth problem has been dealt with this season, and gk errors is upto the performances of almunia and fabiansky. But unfortunately we already hav a good number of injuries.

    Its not about whether arsenal has a decent goalkeeper or not. Bcoz almunia is a decent goalkeeper. The question is whether we can get the all the factors right for a proper season i.e we avoid injuries, less of goalkeeping blunders and havin quality players on bench as well.

  • Wiredu, GHANA

    Almunia has started the season very well when compared to Van of ManUre and Reina of Li’Pool. All he needs is jux a lil self belief and confience. And also wid our world class back four in Verminator, Kozzer, Clichy and Sagna we are on our way to DOMESTIC and CONTINENTAL sucesses. GUNNERS 4EVER!

  • Sandeep

    Yet another good point of view, how many points did Almunia really lose for us last season or the season before last – not many. He also won some points too!
    The problem was when Fabianski took over- we dropped points because of his errors. Fabianski looks nervous and other teams know this and so do our defenders in front of him. We would have been a lot closer even last season if we had a good choice second keeper.
    Not worried about the rest of the team at all- look who did not start last night: Gibbs/ Eboue/ Diabi/ Vela/ Denilson/ Van Persie/ Bentdner/ Rosicky/ Ramsey/ Vermaelen/Djourou – This is great cover everywhere except in goal.
    We do need a better choice second keeper at least!

  • Paul C.

    Dark Prince – absolutely. That is my point. We dont need a “great” goalkeeper to win the League. We need a good one. We need to be relatively lucky with injuries, our defense as a unit has to take a big step up, etc etc.

    One thing I have noticed is how much better the back-5 seem to be communicating this season. Are we seeing a Gallas-effect here? How much of the teams defensive problems were down to people just not talking to each other?

    Of course Chelsea couldnt have won with ANYONE in goal. But Cech was not great last season by any means. He was distinctly average by his own standards. He had a clanger last night. He makes more and more mistakes these days.

    Almunia was poor last season. I am sure he would be the first to admit it. But he has started this season very positively. He will make mistakes. So will every other ‘keeper. We are built to score goals. If our attack does its job we wont need a “great” defense.

  • Wrenny

    Great article. Having Almunia in goal is not something that has me worried, particularly when he is on form. Almunia WILL make mistakes this season, as will every other goalkeeper in the league. If he has a good season, which he is very capable of, then those mistakes will be few and far between and we have every chance of winning trophies with him in goal.

    Fabianski on the other hand, is a completely different matter!

  • Paul C.

    Wrenny & Sandeep – the less said about Fabianski the better, hmm?

  • gooner80

    You make some really good points and I agree with most of what you are saying but a good GK can save you 12- 20 goals a season that could translate into say 5 extra point a huge difference between a good keeper and a fantastic keeper.

    Youre right even an average keeper needs to have a decent season Aluminium had family problems last year and wasnt in his right mind, the game with barca at the ems first half he kept us in it, that is what a world class keeper can do they can keep you in games when you should be two goals down, keep you ingames when you arenot playing well schmiechel & seaman were great at doing this

    I think the criticism of the GK is harsh way over the top but he doesnt exactly breed confidence, he has been blamed for the overall defence problems andit is not fair, he isan excellent shot stopper,lousy on crosses, if wenger is saying he gets nervous in big games bloody hell that is not good he has played in so many games he shouldnt have an ounce of nerves, and nervy is not good in a goal keeper.

    We can win with him but he could cost us some points

  • chammak

    firstly in response to your article – NO. We will certainly get found out against the chavski, utf, and Citeh. But saying that A brilliant performance last night for most of that game. A possible banana skin overcome and we played some outstanding football. But Braga didn’t turn up last night. Yes, partly due to us not letting them turn up but also because they aren’t a great side. But I just really enjoyed watching sublime beautiful footy from our lads. This for me was a game to help build confidence and cohesion. I thought Wilshere and Fabregas worked well in midfield together but will young Jack be able to keep up that level for a whole season? Hope so but would be surprised if he can. Certainly if he keeps developing he is gonna be world class. It’s silly to say we should look at just this game and not relate it to our season. We are Arsenal fans, every game impacts on our season. We are not nuetrals that can just watch one game and leave it at that. The big test for this current line up is the chavs away. We certainly won’t get the same time on the ball against Essien and co in the middle as we did last night. A great result but it has to be viewed in context. We beat a team that is a couple of leagues below us in quality. We played well (brilliantly at times) but we now have to build on that and repeat it against proper quality teams.

  • Aussie Jack

    Not being an expert on goalkeepers ( I leave that to those who know)I can`t rate Almunia in any other way than by his bad press which seems to get out of hand a fair bit. From what I`ve seen of him so far this season I would say that the threat to is job has improved him quite a bit and providing he maintains this level we have nothing to worry about. He`s as good if not better than others in the EPL and I was one of his critics.

  • DC

    Nice article Paul!
    You’re right about Almunia and i personally don’t blame him for our previous and ongoing defensive concerns. There were a number of individual mishaps that left Manuel exposed and looking poor last season and you’re right about Gallas’ and his departure being positive for organisation at the back. Not every successful side needs a so-called “world-class” goalkeeper! Look at the C**talans with Valdez who is fairly average and is arguably no better than Manuel but is made to look better than he is by a good all-round, compact defensive unit when they don’t have the ball.
    The player who really worries me defensively is Gael Clichy. He’s still playing a very reckless and naive defensive game, and has been doing so for 2 seasons now, which once again left us exposed down the left last night. For me, Gibbs should now be given a chance and i’m very confident that he would be more intelligent and aware in his play. I’m not quite sure what’s happened to Gael because since he came back from his long lay-off following injury, he’s become the true liability at the back which most teams constantly attack. One could argue that he doesn’t get the protection he needs from Arshavin but i’m not sure that’s actually true! Sagna gets no more protection on the right yet teams are less willing to challenge him as he’s more aware of his defensive positioning and is less careless! If the left-back position is tightened up, then Almunia will become more confident and may well be called “world class” – if that’s the label that the D&G brigade want for their satisfaction!

  • Ronnie Brown

    I think we can win the league with Almunia, on his day I think he can be a great keeper, he had a poor season last season, but he is capable of some exceptional saves and also can be good in all areas when he really is 100 percent concentrating, he does have something to prove but I believe he has it in him.

  • Ronnie Brown

    And like what pretty much has alreayd been said, I don’t think we could win the league with Fabanski in goal the whole season at his current level but Almunia yes.

  • noakesy

    I totally agree with DC we should have won the league a couple of seasons ago, if Clichy had not made that stupid mistake against Brum ( when Edu smashed his leg ) and Gallas havin a teenage fit. We finished 4 points off that season 2 big points lost there followed by a string of draws afterwards. Gutted?@!”

  • Arsene Apprentice

    Paul C,

    I will never forget that! Excellent point of view for a topic that is very much on the minds of Gunner fans. And, I agree.

  • singapore-gunner

    agree with you POV. to add …
    if Arsenal buy Schwarzer, she would have sold her soul

  • singapore-gunner

    agree with your POV.
    if Arsenal buy Schwarzer,
    she wld’ve sold her soul.

  • Common Sensei

    Hello!! Phew been away a while …

    Well … This is a rare occurance, first time in aaages I read an article on untold that I think is not totally relevent 🙂 hehe but it was an engaging read anyway!

    Still mystifies me how people cannot see that Almunia is actually a pretty decent keeper, and putting the assertions and questions asked earlier the other way around:

    Would Chelsea have won those titles with Almunia in goal…..??
    Would Liverpool have won the CL 2005 with Almunia in goal…..?
    Would Barcelona have beaten Arsenal in the CL final with Al in goal?

    Asking me – I would answer yes to all three of these, not because there are not better keepers in the world, or because I think the keeper wins/loses the league on his own –

    But because these teams were built to win titles, and they did. Having an average-to-good keeper is the requirement here and if you can do better then great! But average-to-good is the requirement for skill, so Almunia is actually doing pretty well compared to that!

    Arsenal of course can win titles, all kinds of trophies with Almunia in goal – and I think they will this season! People on ‘another’ blog were barracking me left right and centre a few months ago – for suggesting that Schwarzer was not the answer and we should stick to Almunia AS WENGER actually subtly suggested…

    And what do you know, he has made one (average-to-good) appearance and is now injured and not playing.

    Almunia on the other hand has played all the games and solidly too! Eat your words non-believers us Wengerites know are shizzle 😀

  • Common Sensei

    *OUR not are (quitting smoking is doing strange things to me!)

  • LRV

    Great point well made Paul C.

  • Paul C.

    Common Sensei – and you could also, in answer to your questions, say:

    “No, those teams wouldnt have won if Almunia had played badly”.

    No team can handle having a bad goalkeeper if they want to challenge for trophies. But I totally agree that average to good is the base requirement. On his day, Almunia is more than capable of handling that.

    We can always buy in January. For now it is up to him to build on his very positive start to the season.

  • Paul C.

    And the reason I didnt mention Valdez in the article was because I was sticking to English Football.

    But yes, Victor Valdez at Barcelona is another prime example of this. I always thought Dida at AC Milan was two shades of crap as well.

  • Arsene Apprentice

    I am a stat guy…

    And, also someone who feels that a GK isn’t solely responsible for the outcome of a season (Bad or Good). A GK is much like a Head of State whereby he takes the blame for a less than expected season based on GAA and gets the credit regardless of GAA if the team finishes first. And, while it is easy to make the case via GS in a season which makes sense there are also the back four which can lead or mislead this stat.
    So you follow me? Because I am lost right now!!! Anyway, Wenger knew that the problem with this team was what? Well we conceded too many goals during the season last year and years prior. Although, the much anticipated change was to hire a new GK Who was exchanged or better yet changed? So let’s be consistent here. We believe that Wenger has it right. Right? So based on that we must believe this is true… We lost three CB’s and gained Three. Where are the replacement GK’s? We have none!
    What does this all mean? F<cK if I know? But, I stand behind the manager!

  • Terence McGovern

    Personally I am glad we didn’t buy Schwartser. Why spend money for no improvement?
    I imagine most of us would have approved if we had bought in a world renowned keeper with cat like reflexes and a demeanour that caused opposing players to void their bowels at the very thought of encroaching upon his personal space.
    However in the absense of such a mythical player Almunia will do just fine.

    Our defence was unbalanced, fractured and skittish all last season.
    This season, we are defending from the very front and pressing the opposition all over the pitch in every game so far. THAT is how you defend.
    The first line of defence is Chamakh and he knows it. All the outfield players have to chip in …even Arshavin. Once they do this and eliminate the already lessening habit of giving the ball away in stupid areas, the burden on the defence will be far easier to manage. This in turn simplifies the job of the goalkeeper.
    The job of the goalkeeper was almost impossible last season. I lost count of the number of times he was hung out to dry by bad defensive decisions and then singled out for criticism.

    The defence is looking to take care of their end of the problem. Partisan media aside, the rest is up to us.

  • Arsene Apprentice

    Terence,

    Good point! And, a point I missed when I commented. That is the point you made in regards to team pressure and giving the ball away in vulnerable areas… or “Team Defending”. So I stay consistent in that the GK is the “head of State” “weather” we come in second or we come in first in the context of GAA.

  • Paul C.

    Almunia and Fabianski finished last season with Silvestre and 35-year old creaking Sol Campbell in front of them. Before that Vermaelen and Gallas were pushed to the limit. They both played through pain until they both fell apart.

    I think David Seaman would have struggled with Silvestre and Campbell in front of him.

    The Central Defenders make the defense. Had we lost Vermaelen early last season to an injury we would have had Silvestre coming in. Now we have Koscielny and Djourou (who has played 2 full reserve matches recently without any ill-effects). I would expect to see those 2 together against Spurs in the League Cup.

    Who will play in goal in that game? Fabianski or Chesney? Wojnech played for the reserves the other night. Fabianski hasnt played since Poland. Hmmm. If Fabianski doesnt play that is the end of his Arsenal career.

  • I notice no one has mentioned Fabien “Come in a taxi, you must have come in a taxi” Barthez. Face it, if Almunia keeps playing the way he has so far, Arsenal will win the League, and people will forget that he was ever a lousy goalkeeper, and remember him for the 2010-11 season when he was a “great goalkeeper.”

  • Aaron

    User chammak… Im holding that against you. Lets see what happens in the next few months. I think we might be suprised. Personally ive been an almunia fan even througout his “Bad Season” which i dont think it was particuarly bad, i just think he made mistakes at the wrong time that hurt us. It wasnt his fault we drew against West ham 3-3… that was for sure. Arsenal Have a tendancey to lay off the ball with an empatic win on the loom, hopefully now we have learnt that mistake and just go for the win at all costs. Fabi, as everyoen has stated is really our biggest problem. He really hasnt learnt much either. Looking at Pre Season and Reserves… he is just horrible. I say give Vito ago he still looks sturdy and i would happily have him as my GK when Almunia needs a rest. I hope Arsen doesnt play Fab in reserves. it really will be our un-doing if he does. Needs to put in Vito.

    Oh and for the user who said he doesnt think Almunia can be a world class keeper, refer to the Barca First leg, he has the talent too, just needs a little concistency.

  • RedGooner

    Forrest had the best defence that is why they won so much.
    They were lethal at the offside trap boring to watch but the most effective team at preventing others scoring I have ever witnessed.
    1-0 to the forrest could have been a song also.

    All the mentioned teams had great defences and I think we have now also ….having said that Clychy worries me a lot I think I would play Gibbs in the BIG matches he has better situational awareness.

  • Mayur

    As far as my memory goes, Almunia had a good season in 2006-07 and most of 2007-08 (when we were at the top of the league) but his next few seasons weren’t as good. The only reason for this is that the defense in front of him was not strong, there was always uncertainty about Gallas and Toure partnership or there was a make-shift defense. If we have a look at the Barcelona games- he was our top player in all three games. And the one mistake (Ibrahimovic goal) was due to, again, uncertain defense. Besides he has been excellent in one on one situations and he has saved a lot of penalties which were stupidly conceded by our defense. As soon as we have a solid and strong defense, Almunia will look a much better goal-keeper than most in the league. AW has full faith in him and so do i!!! Guys he just needs confidence, BACK HIM 🙂

  • walter

    YES WE CAN! 😉

  • Mark the spark

    Yes we can (with almunia)
    No we can’t (with fabianski)
    We quite possible could (with manone)

    Great write up Paul… [hat tilted in your way] 🙂

  • Arun

    I am not much worried about Almunia, although i wanted Given as our No.1 during the transfer period. My worries are all on No.2 goalkeeping spot. Almunia is not injury prone but still happens to sit out a few times due to injury. It is those one or two games that could change our fate if we dont have an able back up.

    Fabianski runs shivers across our back 4. or in other words, gives opponents a belief that the goal can be breached easily.
    As wenger claims, he might be having great quality. but after making some high profile errors in the last two seasons, i dont think it will allow him to be show his qualities. they will keep haunting him whenever he is given the duty. Probably if he goes out to some other team and become No 1 there, he might calm down and can start to show his qualities as he will have a fresh slate to write.
    I will feel little comfortable if Vito is considered ahead of Fabianski.

  • mozart

    when he first came to arsenal, he is really highly rated as szcesny now, big, tall and very good shot stopper..

    almunia never possessed a good devensive pairing in front of him since he officially started as our No 1, the luxury that Seaman, Lehman and all so called great goalkeepers have in front of them..

    almunia have the dealt with the sulking Gallas and his personal problem with Kolo, and a bad example Gallas made to Vermaelen that made both of them always bombarding forward and left almunia alone in our defensive third..

    That to say, this will be the ‘make or break’ season for him as we now possessed a very good devensive pairing and backup since invincible..

  • gooner80

    His main weakness is crosses.

    he is not a short keeper. The question is can he he improve on this and the answer is yes but will he no one knows

    out of the 20clubs in the prem I would rate him above average probably in about 6th -8th place.

    people have mentioned given but I think given is just a shot stopper and our keeper is not bad on that. Schwarzer is injured and at £4million that could have been AWs worst buy, schwarzer has been made to look good because he had a very defensive minded team in front of him

    Alumunia main problem is that we had two world class keepers before him seaman and lehman even though they made the occasional mistake they were much better than him and the other factor has been a disgraceful defensive performance in front of him

    the main thing is we need to put to bed the criticism of this man and support him he is clearly the best keeper we have and on his day he can be class