Well, this is nice and comfy, I could get used to this! Gunners Town embossed leather sofas, those green shaded reading lamps you always see in films firmly attached to a glorious mahogany desk, a choice of several fine pipe tobaccos and enough coat-hanging space for several crushed velvet smoking jackets. Wonderful stuff, so thanks for having me here!
I’d like to write today about Arsene Wenger’s Number One Problem. No, not his eyesight, nor his frankly ridiculous sleeping bag coat (let’s hope Puma don’t make a replica next season), I mean his Number One position: Goalkeeper. I may be a touch unfair, but I think Wenger has only signed one decent goalie in his Arsenal career. Maybe two. Can you guess them? I’ll give you a paragraph break…
Yes, Wenger did have the unenviable job of replacing the legendary David Seaman, but he has spent most of his Arsenal career sitting on a lot of available transfer money, and plenty of top, top quality goalkeepers have moved clubs within the last 17 years (including Sebastien Frey…) and arguably none have made the journey to N5 (near misses like Paul Robinson and Craig Gordon don’t count here…).
If you have said ‘Jens Lehmann and Alex Manninger’ then you win my respect and admiration. But let us look at those goalkeeper signings and sum up their Arsenal careers.
Alex Manninger – (1997 – 2002) Manninger was signed in 1997 from Grazer AK as a deputy for the aging David Seaman, and was called into action during his first season as Seaman succumbed to an injury. Manninger, in my opinion, was a decent goalkeeper who certainly played a large part in Arsenal’s Double win that season. Manninger left after another three seasons as Arsenal’s number two, and was arguably one of Wenger’s best bargain buys, regardless of position. Want to know what Manninger is up to now? Click HERE.
Richard Wright – (2001 – 2002) Wright was signed from Ipswich Town for an undisclosed fee and I think was viewed as Seaman’s long term successor for both club and country by many in the game. Whilst Wright had an average season, with only a howler against Charlton Athletic the one mistake that sticks in the memory, Wright never held the number one spot, despite Seaman suffering another injury during that season. Wright lost his place and then dropped below Stuart Taylor in the pecking order. Whilst he did play a role in Wenger’s second Double, he was sold to Everton the following summer.
Rami Shaaban – (2002 – 2004) After Wright’s exit and Seaman’s inevitable exit on the horizon, many Gooners were expecting a seriously good goalkeeper to arrive. To say Rami Shaaban was underwhelming would be an understatement. The Swedish ‘keeper started his career off well, ably deputising Seaman after yet another injury. But a bad leg-break scuppered what could have possibly been a realistic shot at the number one position and at the time, it was feared that he wouldn’t be able to play top flight football again. By the time Shaaban had recovered, Wenger had finally signed a decent goalkeeper. What ever happened to Shaaban? All your answers are HERE.
Guillaume Warmuz – (2002 – 2003) Warmuz was signed in winter 2002 on a free transfer as cover for Seaman and Shaaban, and failed to play for the first team. Warmuz left for Dortmund as their goalkeeper went the opposite way…
Jens Lehmann – (2003 – 2008 & 2011) Lehmann was signed from Borussia Dortmund and played an instrumental role in The Invincibles team. Lehmann had suffered a flop move to AC Milan earlier in his career and I think this had spurred him on to achieve in England. Lehmann had at least three superb seasons wearing the #1 shirt and his leadership and unflappable attitude helped Wenger bed-in a youthful new defence as he replaced the last of George Graham’s defensive legends. However, a loss of form resulted in a certain Spaniard taking the number one position, and that is where his Arsenal tenure started to go wrong. Lehmann did re-sign on a free in 2008 to cover the goalkeeper position and did a good job again, rolling back the years!
Manuel Almunia – (2004 – 2012) Almunia joined in 2004, in a quietly announced transfer from Celta Vigo ( a lovely town, by the way) as back-up for Lehmann. His appearance in the 2006 Champions League Final after Lehmann was sent off was arguably the most crucial game he had ever appeared in and I think he was culpable for both of the Barcelona goals. In 2007, Lehmann was dropped and Almunia made first choice. What followed was, for me, the start of Arsenal’s mediocrity that stemmed from the back. Almunia was for many, a liability who lacked Lehmann’s leadership and attitude, as well as his ability. Almunia left after losing his place in 2010 to the two Polish ‘keepers and is now playing for Watford. I don’t think Arsenal were ever capable of winning a trophy with Almunia in the number one position at the club.
Lukasz Fabianski – (2007 – Present) Fabianski joined in 2007 after a league winning campaign for Legia Warsaw and his career at the club has been mixed, to say the least. He has conceded a lot of ‘soft goals’ and is the personification of a ‘confidence player’ and I don’t think that he has been able to really stake a claim for the #1 shirt due to his apparent inability to get over knocks to his confidence. Fabianski isn’t a complete goalkeeper and I think he lacks the penalty box presence that his compatriot has…
Wojciech Szczęsny – (2009 – Present) Arsenal’s current #1 and a player who you can’t say lacks confidence. Whilst he is prone to the occasional rush of blood (he thinks himself a ‘sweeper keeper’ I reckon) he can certainly pull off great saves and isn’t afraid to rule his area and boss his defence around. Szczesny has battled through some awful injuries too and whilst he isn’t great yet, he is the first ‘keeper I think since Lehmann who could be considered great in the near future. He does seem to have grown up a lot since his first few years and I think his competition for club and country has helped push him on and upwards.
Emiliano Viviano – (2013 – Present) As for Viviano, who knows? We have yet to see him in action, and whilst he has international pedigree, we don’t know if this will translate into the English game. We shall await with interest!
So, is Arsenal’s Polish #1 the man to lead Arsenal from the back to success, or are their candidates out there better than who the team currently have? I personally like the Germanic trio of Rene Adler, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and Oliver Baumann, as well as Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic and of course Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas, who may want to move having fallen out of favour in Spain. Barcelona’s Victor Valdes is also on the move…but may favour AS Monaco, joining his old friend Eric Abidal there (as well as tax-free, coastal living!).
Thanks for reading,