Arsenal 2010-11 Team Overview, Part 4: *sigh* Goalkeepers

I was in a relatively good mood until I began writing this. Literally began, since the thought of what I would need to comment on has been systematically destroying my nerves for many, many months. The goalkeeping situation at Arsenal has been a dire one for a very long time, but it showed just how putrid it was last season. And while I think all Gooners expected a new arrival at the position to be on the books before now, we've made no additions, nor have we subtracted anyone from the current crop. Even worse, as of right now, Arsene has not so much as hinted at who his starting goalkeeper will be on Sunday, when we begin our season at Anfield against a Liverpool side who have added Joe Cole and who will be geared up to impress new manager Roy "Woy" Hodgson. I suppose I should look at the contenders man by man and assess what we currently have to work with.

Manuel Almunia

(2009-2010: Apps – 36; Conceded – 38; Shots Faced – 123; Saves – 85; Saves to Shot ratio – 67.7%)
LAST SEASON: Our dyed-blonde keeper has never been the most solid of keepers. On his day, he can be a brilliant shot-stopper (1st half of home leg v Barca). But he is prone to mental errors (throw leading to Chelsea goal at Stamford Bridge in 2008, etc.), his positioning is questionable at best, his kicking is just atrocious. Worst of all, through no real fault of his own, he just manages through what appears to be sheer bad luck to allow goals that shouldn't be (the ball bouncing in off his head and in at Eastlands last season). Manuel's command of his area is about as strong as his namesake's command of English:

He has made some crucial saves for us in the past, but these have been far outweighed by equally critical errors that have cost us a great many points. Not only that, but his save percentage has decreased every season since becoming the Arsenal # 1 (Courtesy of We Are Arsenal blog).
2007-2008: 87.5%; 2008-2009: 75.7%; 2009-2010: 69.1%.
We all know how Arsene feels about statistics, and he has the same numbers we have. Perhaps that's why we've seen so little of Almunia this preseason.

THIS TIME: I see no reason to expect different from Manuel this season. It's rare enough when younger outfield players make a huge leap forward in one season; for an aging keeper, it's damn near impossible. I do feel for Manuel, he seems like a very nice guy and deserves to have success somewhere; but I don't feel that Arsenal is that place. He is what he is: somewhat talented, seriously flawed, and an overall liability at the back. Still he's not as bad as...

Lukasz Fabianski
(2009-2010: Apps – 10; Conceded – 16; Saves to Shot ratio – 64.3%)
LAST SEASON: If there was a worse keeper in the top flight of any major European league last season, I didn't hear about him. Fabianski was personally responsible for any number of goals last season. Personally responsible as in, he scored the goal for the other team. His performance in the away leg of our Champions League tie with Porto was the most dismal, abject display of poor goalkeeping I have personally ever seen in 13 years following Arsenal: he threw an EASILY savable ball (and when I say easily savable, I mean I factually believe I would make that stop 10/10 times) and tossed it into his own net; then, after Sol Campbell had bailed him out with a header, he PICKED UP A BACK PASS to give Porto a free kick at the 6 yard box; THEN, to make matters worse, he immediately gave the ball to the referee before his defenders could set up, allowing Porto to walk one into the net, losing the match.

His complete ineptitude at set pieces and willingness to be bullied in his area led teams like Wigan and Blackburn to take advantage of this down the stretch. The knowledge of this particular weakness of not-so-Fab's has spread so far and wide that we saw the same sort of displays by Polish side Legia Warsaw in a preseason match. If they know this trick, you can bet that every side in England and Europe on our schedule will practice the same tactics. Additionally, you can detect a difference in the defenders when Lukasz is in goal. You can tell they have as much confidence in him as we do. His decision-making is terrible, he cannot marshal a defence and even if he could, I would doubt his reading of the game. There is not a single redeeming goalkeeping quality I can see in this man. That Arsene continues to trot him out there must be the result of the manager's hubris, or some sort of blackmail scheme cooked up by Fabianski. Those are the only two logical conclusions I can reach.

THIS TIME: I am not what you would call a religious man, but I have actually prayed to whatever divinities may be out there that Lukasz Fabianski never play for Arsenal again. So if he does make another appearance, I will at least be content in the knowledge that there is no god and the universe is indeed the result of a random collection of occurrences in chaos. So I've got that going for me... which is nice.

Seriously though, he MUST not play. And in case you needed a refresher on how impossibly poor a keeper he is, here's Lukasz in our 3-1 loss to Stoke in the FA Cup. The scoreline could've been much worse.

Vito Mannone

(2009-2010: Apps – 8; Conceded – 8; Saves to Shot ratio – 78.3%)
LAST SEASON: Was pressed into service early last season when Fabianski was mercifully still injured, due to the chest infection/shitty goalkeeping of Manuel Almunia. Taking all of his performances as a whole, I give Vito a pretty positive review. He was clearly man of the match in our 1-0 away win over Fulham, making some remarkable saves, and he was overall very good in home wins over Blackburn and Wigan, while only his debut away at Standard Liege (W 2-3) stands out as subpar. *Note* Some will list his performance in the 2-2 draw at West Ham was poor as well, but of the 2 allowed, one was a penalty, and I feel his defenders let him down a bit. Just my opinion.

THIS TIME: Vito has not seen very much action in preseason, which leads me to believe that he will be no more than 3rd-string again this season, more's the pity. I felt he was clearly the best option we had last season, and while I know he's inexperienced, so is Fabianski. Comparing the two, however, Vito's experience has been successful. Lukasz's has been... what's the opposite of successful? Yeah, that.

Wojciech Szczesny

LAST SEASON: While Wojciech did see some time in last year's preseason (and looked good, I might add), he made only one appearance in the Arsenal first team last season (Carling Cup - stats unavailable). He instead went on loan to Brentford in Coca-Cola League One, where by all accounts he was a great success. Gunnerblog posted answers from Brentford fans about Szczesny's performance last season, and they had this to say about his impact:

Huge, he must have earnt us at least 10 points last season.
Massive. In my opinion, the best keeper I have seen play for Brentford FC since I've been going, 1973, so you can see he has made a huge impact.
Massive, one of the best keepers I’ve seen here, although the impact was probably exaggerated by the fact he replaced a donkey in goal.
As everyone says he had a massive impact on the team, and the thing that struck me was that he didn’t mind going to elbow merchants like MK Dons and Wycombe on cold December nights… in fact he seemed to relish the prospect.
Huge. He helped solidify a defence that was a bit wobbly to say the least. I think he was worth at least 9 points to us, possibly more.

THIS TIME: He's seen a good bit of time in preseason, probably just less than Fabianski and equal with Almunia. What that means for where he will start the season is beyond me. After Fabianski put on his usual clown routine in goal in the first half against Legia Warsaw, Szczesny came on at halftime, and you could just see the difference. The defenders played a little looser (in a good way) and the team started to flow, particularly after Wojciech made a lovely double save when the forward should have scored twice. I do wish I could've seen him more on corners and free kicks, but from what I did see, he did not allow Legia to intimidate him or control his area, as they had done with Fabianski. If no new keeper arrives, Wojciech Szczesny will give us the best chance to win every time out.

By the numbers alone, Vito was by far our best keeper last season, statistically. In two fewer appearances, Vito conceded 8 goals to Fabianski's 16, and at least 2 of Vito's 8 were from penalties. His record in 8 games (5 Premier League starts, 3 Champions League starts), his record was 6 wins, 0 losses, 2 draws (to use a simple league play statistic, 20 pts from a possible 24, or 83% of pts earned). This is far better than either Almunia (78 of a possible 102 pts, 78%) or Fabianski (10 of a possible 30, 33%), although on a smaller scale than Manuel. While one cannot base team record solely on keeper's performance, taken with their respective save percentage, one can logically draw some conclusions about how the team tends to perform based on who is between the sticks. Based on observation, one can clearly see Vito yelling out to his defenders and organizing them in front of him. He himself is vocal and confident, which I feel (and this is again opinion, not fact) inspires confidence in his defenders. Almunia does not exude this quality and while he is occasionally vocal, his body language tells a different tale. Fabianski is not exactly vocal, allows the opponent to control the 18 yard box on set pieces, and lets himself be bullied on a consistent basis. The bottom line is, our new goalkeeping shirts with tiger stripes look stupid enough; they're going to look a whole lot fucking stupider if they're constantly picking mistake goals out of the net. Arsene, I'm begging you: Please sort this out. And by sort this out," I mean "Buy a damned goalkeeper."

On to our season opener, away at Anfield against the Scousers. I would imagine a good many Gooners are feeling mighty nervous about this trip to Liverpool, and this time it's not just about their wallets or hubcaps. In typical Arsenal fashion, we start the season with a slew of injuries (Denilson, Bendtner, Diaby, Song, Djourou, and of course Aaron Ramsey), leaving our squad depleted even before taking into account the relative fitness of our World Cup finalists (and best players) Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. Then there's the massively stupid timing of the latest batch of USELESS friendlies scheduled by FIFA. The World Cup JUST ended. Give it a rest, huh?

What this means for Arsenal, bar fans praying for Santa to show up with magical healing potion, a defender and a goalkeeper, is that we are at bare bones. I would be shocked if Cesc and RvP start the match, but I would expect at least one to be on the bench, probably both. Denilson and Diaby will have fitness tests today or Saturday, but as neither has been in full training, neither is likely to start. I'm picturing a lineup like this:

Arshavin - Chamakh - Eboue

Wilshere/Rosicky - Nasri - Frimpong

Clichy - Vermaelen - Koscielny - Sagna


While it's certainly not the strongest lineup we've even had, it could be worse. For one thing, I believe that Frimpong is a better option at holding midfielder than Denilson would be. Then we've got the in-form Nasri, Chamakh and Eboue to trouble the Liverpool defence. Finally, we have Andrei Arshavin. At Anfield. The bottom line is, if this Arsenal team play as they are capable (are you listening, back four?) We can certainly win. After all, this is hardly the best side Liverpool have ever fielded either.

Of course, if Fabianski is in goal, all bets are off.

I'll have a more detailed look at the season ahead some time next week. Until then, get your voices ready to sing up for the Arsenal. It's a new season, we have a very good team. On Sunday, whether you're in Anfield, back in North London, in New York, LA, Indonesia, the mountains of Nepal or any point in between, cheer on the Gunners, be that 12th man. We're all connected. No matter who the manager selects, it's time to show it.

And it's Arsenal, Arsenal F.C., We're by far the greatest team, The world has ever seen...

Stay classy.