2010-11 Season Review: The Keepers

What a tiring season. One to forget really, except of course for the emergence of Jack and Szczesny, the return of Rambo, the dancing delights of Samir (just sign it man!) and the ruthless consistency of RVP.

Here’s the first in wearethenorthbank’s mult-part review of those that wore the red and white of The Arsenal in 2010-11.

The Keepers

Manuel Almunia

There was a time when Arsenal fans would chant “England’s Number 1″ in reference to the suggestion that Almunia might seek a British passport and represent the nation of his employers. Now, most Arsenal fans want him on the next plane out of Gatwick. Despite glimpses of steadiness the fact remains that Almunia has never been more than a decent back up.

In fairness to Almunia, it was Wenger’s fruitless search for a keeper, Mark Schwarzer in particular, that contributed the most to his disintegration. The Schwarzer deal was fine on paper - get in an experienced player on a cheap deal and a short contract and allow the two young Polish stoppers a chance to develop in the background. This idea was perfect until Fulham took away the cheap part of the scenario and Almunia remained as our No.1 by default.

Almunia stuck around and conspired to hand WBA three points at The Emirates. The fact that a trademark Arsenal injury crisis saw him back between the sticks some six months later at the Camp Nou was almost farcical. He actually did ok there but away to West Brom and home to Blackburn he was a visible wreck; bereft of the confidence required to even clear a long ball or dip to collect a tame shot.

In hindsight, Wenger should have stumped up whatever it took to get Schwarzer, not necessarily because he was, at the time, significantly better but because the all too open nature of the pursuit meant that Almunia’s position became untenable. The first big failure of the season was the fact that Almunia was undermined and then expected to play to a level he’d struggled to do so, even before. Almunia was never good enough to be a long-term first choice but it not his fault that he was exposed in such a glaring way.

Lukasz Fabianski

After Almunia’s disastrous start the gloves were passed to Fabianski. To say that ‘Flappyhandski’ was regarded as another accident waiting to happen is an understatement. In fairness, he came in and stood up to the scrutiny pretty well. His confidence would have been boosted when he replaced Almunia for the 3-1 away win at Partizan Belgrade where he stopped a penalty and made a great left handed save. From there he got the nod away to Chelsea and despite conceding twice (one of which was a thunderbolt from Alex which all three of our keepers together wouldn’t have stopped) he gave a good account of himself.

To his credit, the mistake most of us expected never really came. Fabianski grew into his position and looked like a worthy No.1. I can only really remember the header from Andy Carroll in the 1-0 home reverse against Newcastle where Fabianski was to blame. In fairness to him, he was out-jumped by the eighth most expensive player of all time (!) after coming to punch a deep free kick. It was hardly Dave Beasant territory.

It was an injury in the return match against Belgrade that put a premature end to Fabianksi’s season so the jury will unfortunately remain out on whether he has the ability to be a genuine top level keeper. On the strength of his improving displays this season I get the feeling that given the No.1 jersey – and the assurance that he was in goal come what may – we’d see a very accomplished keeper however, given the emergence of Wojciech Szczesny, I doubt that will happen. He should remain as competition for Szczesny and his biggest challenge will be showing that he has the necessary focus to step in and perform without a string of games behind him.

Wojciech Szczesny

We’d all heard the reports about how good he was. Brentford fans commented that he was definitely good enough to come in at the top level, even at the tender age of 21. I was sceptical, given his age and lack of top level experience but, I’m happy to say he’s proved me wrong.

Szczesny is big, he’s mouthy and, most significantly, he thinks he’s a top class keeper in waiting. To be fair to him, I’ve not seen a lot to contradict him. Arrogance is a good thing if you can back it up, and Wojciech can. His arrogance doesn’t absolve him of responsibility when things don’t go to plan, like the Carling Cup Final for instance, but it does allow him to bounce back. After the Birmingham disaster Wenger was asked whether he thought he’d have to work hard to lift Koscielny and Szczesny. The Boss replied by saying that he’d have to work on the Centre Half but his Keeper was already over it.

All goalkeepers make mistakes. Schmeichel and Seaman, Edwin Van Der Sar, Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas, they’re all at it. The key to success for a keeper is whether you can dust yourself down and get on with it after you’ve committed a howler. A great example of this was David James. His career at Liverpool and Villa was blighted by mistakes but it wasn’t until he was older and he learnt that these things were an occupational hazard that he had a renaissance at Pompey.

There is still a suspicion that Szczesny might suffer the odd rush of blood in pressure cooker situations – his lunges at Bale and Lennon a few weeks ago are good examples – but this is an experience thing. He’s now performed solidly at Old Trafford, briefly at the Nou Camp and at White Hart Lane. To me, he will now only get better and will hopefully be our No.1 for years.

Jens Lehmann

Nobody expected to see the Mad German back between the sticks but, given the turmoil we’ve experienced since his departure, who can honestly say they weren’t a little bit relieved to have him back?

Crazy Jens only played once, a relatively steady performance in a 3-1 away win at Blackpool. His major impact was reportedly off field. Wojiech Szczesny remarked in the programme before the Liverpool game that Jens had offered him a few valuable tips and openly suggested that it would be nice for his new mentor to stick around. Jens himself suggested last week that he might give us another year if required and, with two young keepers improving, I wouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed, if Lehmann was given one more year.