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Almunia: It’s been a really tough year; plus free club level tickets for WBA

By Tony Attwood

Imagine being told by the boss that he doesn’t think you are quite up to it.  Maybe you would like to move on?  There’s a good opportunity going in… Norway.  Or maybe Malta…. That must be bad enough.  But as a footballer being told by people who are supposedly supporting your team that you are no good – that must be a lot worse.

And if the reason for the criticism is a supposed lack of confidence, then it hardly does anything for the confidence.  It is as if the fans thought, “hey, here’s a guy who is in low spirits – let’s blame him for our failures and that should buck him up a bit.”

Curiously Manuel Almunia, who has been subject to unprecedented abuse from the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal blogs in the last year as they have ramped up their attempts to destabilise the club, has also witnessed this all from the other side.  In 2003/4 Arsenal won the league without losing a single league game.  The goalkeeper throughout the entire season was Jens Lehman – the only man in the history of English football to play in goal in every league game and never once be on the losing team.

But then on 4 December 2004 after a run of six games (following the end of the “49”) with only one win, he was dropped and Almunia came in.  It caused quite a press stir at the time (as these things do) and there was talk that Lehman had been dropped for one game only.  In fact he was out for ten, returning in February.

Goalkeepers as we know are strange creatures – Lehman perhaps more than most – and certainly he was a character who caught everyone’s attention (not least with the penalty he gave away against Tottenham in the 2-2 draw in April 2004 which won the league.)

Almunia has always seemed more balanced from the moment came in as the regular first team keeper in 2008/9 – a season in which we won 20, lost 6 and drew 12, conceding 37 goals (the highest number since 2003 when we let in 42 to come second).

The problems however really began in September 2009 when, according to the Sun, “Manuel Almunia has challenged Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy, by insisting: We can’t win anything with kids.” The story also appeared in the Mirror.

No journalist or source was given, and there were no details of when the supposed conversation took place or how these esteemed newspapers came to hear about it when everyone else didn’t, but they went on with Almunia supposedly saying: “We need the manager to work harder to get what we need, the club to make an extra effort to make us more competitive. We need more than youth.”

At the time those of us who bother to think about such things wondered if this was a one-off invention by an anti-Arsenal journalist, or part of an orchestrated campaign.  It turned out to be the latter.  The Sun continued the next day with a story that said that Almunia’s wife has seen a “ghoul at their swish pad on the site of an old asylum.”

“Spaniard Almunia, 30, has also heard chains rattling and had stereos turning on at full volume on their own. He is so spooked boss Arsene Wenger has given him permission to go home for lunch to avoid leaving wife Ana alone at the house in Abbots Langley, Herts.

“Terrified Almunia said yesterday: “My house is small but there is a lot of history to it and it seems there are ghosts.

“We’ve spoken to neighbours, and they said this was normal.”

So, two stories in two days against one player.  Why was this? The most likely reason is that the editor of the made-up section of the paper (which is just about all of it) said he wanted an Arsenal story against someone they haven’t done before, and two journalists came up with different made up tales. They then went into the editorial meeting, went through the “Michael Jackson seen playing for Lincoln City Youth Team,” rejected that and came up with these.

The double header from the Sun (that’s the journalist, not the fact that they ran two stories) was warmly welcomed by the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal and Almunia was nominated as a victim, and kicked endlessly.  Not surprisingly under such a huge torrent of abuse his form became a bit shaky.

As a result of that the abuse got worse, the rest of the media picked up on the tale, and then people who had never seen Arsenal, let alone Almunia, picked up on the notion that Almunia was so obviously awful, that this was total proof that Wenger was a nutter.  Only a nutter would ever play someone that bad.

Then early in the 2009/10 season there was further press coverage of his private life, although this time not made up.  Almunia was given  compassionate leave following the death of his mother-in-law in a car crash, and according to some reports also got a chest infection at the same time.  (Rather amusingly the Mirror lost this story which relates to September/October 2009 and had him speaking “for the first time” about the situation in March 2010.  A subscription to the Arsenal programme could help lads – it ran the same piece five months earlier.)

In recent interviews Almunia has said last season was personally difficult for him, and he appreciates the backing he has been given by the manager – something which does not accord with what most of the press and the Anti-Arsenal have been saying.

The Anti-Almunia stories have continued, generally along the lines of noting a couple of goals that, it is claimed, a better keeper would have stopped.   The performance during his broader career is ignored, and everything comes down to a handful of incidents.

It must be phenomenally difficult to focus when people who pretend to be Arsenal supporters but whose actions do nothing but undermine our own players are on your back, and the fact that he has come out of last season’s personal difficulties and battled on shows enormous strength.  Anyone with any sensitivity knows that a family bereavement can be enormously influential, affecting the mind and the body for months to come.  When that death is a violent one, as with a car crash, it can be doubly so.

We all know that one slip, one mistake, will always get some supporters on the back of a goalkeeper.  I recall being at an away match with Pat Jennings in goal in the early 1980s – I think against Coventry.  Jennings made a mistake and the home team scored, and the guy next to me started swearing about how Jennings was a Tottenham player through and through and we should never have trusted him.  One mistake – and he got that.

One slip and Almunia will get it again from the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal – but with a spot of luck he has now built up enough resiliance to know that those of us in the ground each week are with him.

—————————

Now, just in case you missed it yesterday, here’s a run down on the free tickets at club level for the WBA match.

Every week O2 will broadcast a famous Arsenal chant. They will encourage people to tweet the chant on twitter with the hashtag #o2arsenal and any other message they can fit in. The first tweeter to get 50 re-tweets will win two club level box tickets to the next Arsenal home match. So the first winner will be going to the West Brom  at home game this weekend.  And I can tell you when Jane and I did it, it was great.

More details of the prize and the competition can be found here: http://o2blueroom.co.uk/events/Win-Arsenal-tickets/460

This weeks chant to tweet is: OHH-O Theo Walcott, Theo Theo Walcott, he’s an Englishman at Arsenal #o2arsenal bit.ly/bRBte5

———–

Arsenal’s first keeper, how he became the first keeper to score at the other end, how he managed the silver medalists at the Olympics and how he went on to take Brazilian football by storm.

Tottenham v Arsenal – the view from overseas on Arsenal Worldwide

The Untold Ref Index: Tinies v Arsenal

All the stuff that Arry said after the game which you wouldn’t believe anyway.

How our injuries compares with other clubs

24 comments to Almunia: It’s been a really tough year; plus free club level tickets for WBA

  • Arsene-al

    great article as always, a beacon of light amongst all the anti arsenal propaganda. am i alone in thinking the fans are louder than usual. perhaps the AAA have freed some seats for the real arsenal fans to properly support our club. i feel the influence of the AAA is dwindling and there’s been a dramatic improvement in both the performance of the team and the atmosphere of home and away games. maybe im just riding the high of that thrashing at white tart but i think our boys aren’t the only ones that have matured

  • The Blaze

    Even though i’m not Almunia’s biggest fan, he has had a brilliant start to the season. I always felt that one of his weak points as a goalkeeper is his positioning and his aerial ability. I still do. But it’s obvious that he has been working on it, especially on his presence in the air and i can appreciate that. When a cross comes in or when a high ball is approaching him, Almunia seems to jump at it with far more confidence than last season, his punch has been better and i feel a bit more assured when he goes for a high ball.
    It’s important that Almunia gets the support from everyone who cares about Arsenal. Maybe there’s a better goalkeeper out there, but we’re in September, Almunia is our #1 goalkeeper, so we might as well fully support him when he’s defending the Arsenal-goal. That is what i’ll be doing.

  • critic

    agreed….some people just say he is bad and other just follow the suit…but what’s hurting is, most of the arsenal fan just abuse him b’coz some pundits say so and media shows so…
    i always rated him, he is a one of the best shot stopper in the business.
    People were blaming him for ngog’s goal at anfield!!!!just amazing!! such goal against vandersaar was spectacular and against arsenal it was alumunia’s fault…..speaks volume for fans ignorance…

  • critic

    i think wenger should field his usual carling cup side this weekend, as seniors need some rest, but will he take such risk???well, we are at emirates and are used to sleepwalk such teams…no disrespect to WBA…

  • Dark Prince

    Our goalkeeper’s position ga been highly controversial for few seasons now. Almunia has been targeted since he has replaced Lehmann, Fabianski since last season and few days ago i read on one of the arsenal blogs that Szczesny had given an interview where he said that ‘Wenger avoids me’. Its quite sad to hear all this. Even though i myself have expressed that we need a better goalkeeper, but it doesn’t mean we all need to start abusing Almunia. He has had decent start to this season. We should support him as much as we support any other Arsenal player.

  • IndianGooner

    Almunia has been getting lots of support from the fans this season and he has acknowledged this in couple of games.. His form seems to be back to the levels of 2 seasons back. The form which helped him displace Jens.

  • Except keeper is always easy target to pick, if you like to hate and look for someone to blame for everything, I believe reason for all this fuzz is in fact that (more or less) last decades in Arsenal are marked with quite charismatic keepers, and Almunia is “just plain GK”.
    I believe Manolo is not the best GK in world, but he is fair enough to to be compared to most of keepers in PL, and more than sufficient for wining title.
    Those who rant against him has to understand,there is no perfect goalie, there are just ones whom we see more often. If you would watch as many Chavski or Barcelona games, as Arsenal ones, soon you would see that Czech or Valdes make mistakes too. Just when they make it, we don’t care, it cost us nothing so we are easy to forget.

  • Terence McGovern

    I completely agree.

    There is more confidence to his overall game at the moment. We are not conceding many goals and he has has a few pretty tasty hollywood save moments as well, which I am delighted to say the crowd roared approval for.

    STILL UNDEFEATED!!!!!

  • kiwigooner

    It is inherent in human nature to blame others, it is the easiest solution. It does not require a great deal of thought. Once the victim ahs been selected everyone can come up with a mistake or a fault to add to the avalance of ill feeling that inevidably flows downhill. School ground bullying is all it is. Everyone can remember the kid that was lowest on the pecking order, their life must have been hell. This is what AAA and the press are trying to do to Almunia. They have selected him to be the scapegoat and all of our failings are focussed soley on him and his performances.
    Removes the need to think, just pile the criticism on him whether deserved or not.
    Personally I think if he is a member of the team he should be supported, we win or lose together. Only then as a unit can we progress.
    Everytime we allow one of our own to be vitimised we are all diminished and our chances of success reduced accordingly. It must be music to the ears of those who wish us ill, for the seeds of discontent that they have sown are taking root and unfortunately starting to flourish.

  • Mandy Dodd

    The so called AAA brigade, on the whole are festering in the feculence of their own fetid existance. I guess the genuine Arsenal fans amongst their numbers are entitled to their opinions but if the teams performances are shutting them up a bit, so much the better.
    I am impressed with the way Almunia has started the season, I would love to see him prove his doubters wrong.
    We now look – on most occasions – more solid at the back. This will help him and his confidence. There have been times recently when it has not been easy being an Arsenal gk.
    Just hope it is onwards and upwards for MA.

  • A Casual Observer

    Nice article… and I agree with everything you say – I know fans, sensible fans, who have fallen into the trap of setting up certain players as ‘straw men’. This is a phenomenon that the modern fan seems to have generated not only via the blogs you mention but, as you also say, via the sustained media hate campaign aimed at our club – be it the editors of the Murdochracy cherry picking negativity to publish or the Arsenal hating commentators that seemed to be picked by the TV and Radio producers for ‘those matches’ where we face a hoofing.

    IMHO this is because we get mugged so consistently in the league i.e. sympathy from the neutral and probing questions from the fan base would no doubt rock the gravy-train somewhat – the integrity of the game must not under any circumstances come into question – there is too much money at risk… the arm chair dwelling self harmers on the hate sites who are unable to think outside the box and form a more plausible opinion for the ‘lack of silverwear’ (that they are brainwashed into believing, by the spectacular society, is the be all and end all orgasm that every fan in the universe is due by divine right) default to the apologist agenda of their ‘experts’ and peers… it is an easy path to walk – it is the path of least resistance for media-spun frustration to vent. It is a path with the illusion of strength but the reality of cowardice and insecurity.

    What I think is also worth a mention… and I can’t help myself mentioning things sometimes – is the Eboué effect (don’t laugh). Here we have a chap who was set up and scythed down by the self harmers and then rose from the flames with a confidence and verve that is an example to us all – the spirit he has shown I believe epitomises our club and will inspire players like Almunia, Denilson and Bendtner (although he’s never been short of confidence) to ignore the oppressors and focus on their game – he has been to rock bottom and, finding nothing there, he has bounced back with all he’s got.

  • A Casual Observer

    oops – posted in the wrong bit! Delete please Tony 🙂

  • A Casual Observer

    hang on… no – this is confusing – that is right.. the site has a bug. :-S

  • festering in the feculence of their own fetid existance

    Blimey

    And Casual – I do watch the tech side of the site quite avidly. We’re using word press, which is fairly solid and used everywhere, through my company’s servers (which means if there is a problem with the servers I know at once as it hits all the 100+ sites we have). I would never say, “there’s no problem” but at the moment, I can’t see anything amiss.

  • Chowdhury

    “the arm chair dwelling self harmers on the hate sites who are unable to think outside the box and form a more plausible opinion for the ‘lack of silverwear’ (that they are brainwashed into believing, by the spectacular society, is the be all and end all orgasm that every fan in the universe is due by divine right) default to the apologist agenda of their ‘experts’ and peers…”

    Wow. Its an honor to be the fan of the same club with you “Casual Observer”.
    I am growing so frustrated with this “silverware” thing of late, I am seriously thinking[only thinking] of wishing that We don’t win any silverware for next 3 or 4 years, perhaps that would weed out the AAA pretenders and we will be left with a bunch who has brain enough to understand the core philosophy that is Arsenal. I must have missed it in my teachings but since when life is all about “winning something at any cost”?
    In Arsene We Trust.

  • A Casual Observer

    lol – It might have been my eyes but I could have sworn it brought back the previous topic when I clicked post and then the original when I posted the other bit… anyhoo – I’ve posted too much! Feel free to delete my fluster (in fact please do – including this bit).

    Chowdhury… I thankyew – but it blogs like these that are the beacon of reason that cast the warm safe light in which we can post without the rabid hostility of the aforementioned. We grow in our number – we grow in our resolve – and one day we will be able to spit forth into these ‘empty vessels’ of deafening doom those words that lie forever on our stiff lips…

    …I told you so.

    😉

  • Mandy Dodd

    Well – I have maybe been a bit harsh and over used these F words on some of these people – each to their own – maybe but I would love to know where some of these fans are coming from.
    The AAA equally annoy and intrigue me – maybe a bit Arsenal centric but I am not aware of any other club that does so well under difficult circumstances, produces such great football yet attracts the negativity we usually do.

  • RedGooner

    I always believe what I see on the pitch when supporting a team and I have never had an issue with Almunia as many times when the press blamed him was when he was been fouled by teams like Blackburn and Stoke etc and not responsible for the goals.

    I think Mannone is our second best and Waznick needs a spell on loan from xmas onwards with a higher division team to allow him to develop further as right now he probably wouldnt be quite ready.
    Having said all that it is nice this year to see Almunia with a decent defence in front of him allowing him to show the difference working these new players kudos to AW in the transfer market.

  • toby

    It always interests me that when goals are conceded, it’s often the goalkeeper that is “at fault”. But when clean sheets are kept, it is the “Back 4” that is applauded. Isn’t everyone’s perception of a goalkeeper’s class influenced by the quality of the defence that is playing in front of him?

    In the days of Dixon, Adams, Bould and WInterburn, yes we had a great goalkeeper, but before him we had Lukic, and I don’t recall him ever getting the flack that Almunia is getting – because he was playing behind a great back line!! I remember standing (yes, standing) in the North Bank at one game and Lukic hooked every bloody goal-kick into the dugouts, to the increasing groans of the North Bank. Eventually he managed to kick one down the middle of the field, turned around and gave a sneaky ‘thumbs up’ to the crowd behind him. That endeared him to the faithful, made him ‘one of us’, and made us forgive him for his transgressions.

    But my main point is this: with an ever-improving back 4 this season, everyone’s perception of Alumnia as goalkeeper will improve. In Arsene we trust: we’ll get a better goalkeeper this year, not by buying one, but showing confidence in the one we have (which will be repaid), and getting a better back-line in front of him. Kos’ and Squirt’s performances so far this season show that.

  • Akshay

    Its a pretty thankless job, isn’t it, goalkeeping!! Your brilliant days are remembered by on a few, that too not for very long, And u get clobbered for the slightest mistakes u make…and ppl keep bringing it up all the time!
    I must confess that i too thought that Almunia should go, a number of times during that last season, & had given up all hopes when we failed to sign someone this time around. And i thank god that what i think really doesn’t matter & that its Wenger who has the last word.
    What many (and i venture to risk stating that it was a majority) of us never realised that our defence was pretty shaky last time around. And it kept exposing our goalkeeper & he became the softest target & everybody’s favourite whipping boy!! He certainly isn’t the best around but he certainly is one of the “very better” ones. And i hope that a much improved defensive line up & his impressive start to the season are signs of a silver lining.

  • walter

    After seeing Schwarzer playing this season and after seeing Given playing yesterday with City than I really cannot see what that they are better than Almunia.

    Oh and by the way the Stoke attacker attacked Schwarzer at the second goal so he couldn’t run further. Just like Blackburn did this weekend on him. So having him in goal for us would make nu difference to Fabianski last season at Blackburn.

  • Gooner Gal

    I hope Big Al keeps up his performances and this season proves to be a positive turning point for him.

    As for Wojciech Szczesny if the comments he’s been making are true I’d advise him to do three things.

    1. Sign new contract offered if you want playing time.

    2. Reconsider your counsel or get some in future, because speaking out this way will never achieve what you want and is the fast track to the exit. Surely the people around you should of given you better advice?

    3. Keep you head down and show total commitment in training.

    4. If the comments attributed to you are false or misconstrued, ask Arsenal.com to do some damage limitation on your behalf

    It would be a shame to loose a good goal keeping prospect.

  • Diamindave

    a bit late I know but I think Almunias dissing by the press started after he was linked to be England goalkeeping position. The inherent xenophobia within English football (and a lot of the commentators on the game) reared its ugly head and any mistakes that big Al made got noted and regurgitated at an appropriate moment.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Unfortunately, it just got tougher for him.
    The majority of the team were a complete let down, not sure why Diaby was on the pitch for so long but ultimately, Almunia will get all the wrong sort of headlines.
    I love Wenger to bits but this keeper thing does bug me.
    I really want it to work for Almunia but not sure he is the top notch keeper we need or ever will be