Friday, May 6, 2011

Arsenal 2010-2011 Season Review IV

Player Grades: The Goalkeepers

Vito Mannone: N/A

I really like Mannone as a goalkeeper, but I'm not really sure why Wenger doesn't. I base that comment on the manager's decision to give him minimal time in goal while Almunia and Fabianski displayed their mediocrity (and sub-mediocrity) last season, and his decision to put the young Italian out on loan all season with Hull City this year. I believe Mannone is the starting goalkeeper for Italy Under-21s and whenever I've seen him play, I've been impressed. I don't recall him ever making the mistakes that any of our other keepers have made. Nonetheless, Mannone doesn't exactly possess the experience I would want for a starting Arsenal keeper. We need someone with all the talent and ability of David Seaman. I'd like to keep Vito on the team for next season, but I do foresee the possibility of him leaving to find first-team action elsewhere. He's a great back-up to have, though. The rise of Szczesny has certainly made him more expendable. It'll be interesting to see what happens here.

Jens Lehmann: N/A

I'm still having trouble believing that the 41-year old German made a start for us this year. In that start he looked better than Almunia, but regardless...we should have never reached this point in the season. Wenger should have followed through on bringing in a goalkeeper. Now I know he tried to get Mark Schwarzer from Fulham, but he didn't try hard enough. I believe we put in a 2 million Euro bid for him, which is a bit low for an experienced player, even for a keeper. 4 million probably would have been sufficient, but that would go against the stinginess and the ego of Arsene Wenger. Anyways, thankfully Szczesny came back from injury at the perfect time. The short ballet between Jens and Almunia was a horror show. But I do commend Lehmann for coming back and wanting to help his old club. Kudos.

Lukasz Fabianski: B

Fabianski should easily be named our most improved player. Last year his play was abysmal. We saw blunder after blunder from him, and I wondered what the Arsenal faithful had done to deserve a player like him. But that was last season. You really have to take your hat off to Fabianski. He worked hard and corrected many of the problems that led to his mistakes. Lukasz has always been a phenomenal shot-stopper; it's easily his biggest strength. But his problem, like with all of the men between the sticks on Arsenal, is that his decision-making isn't always what it should be. Again, he has improved on this, but I do wonder if more improvement needs to be made before he hand the number 1 shirt. I'd like Arsene to sign an experienced keeper. Maybe he should try for Schwarzer again. I don't want to detriment the development of Fabianski or Szcznesny, but with the looming departure of Almunia, we'll need to bring in someone. Maybe that someone will be to bring Mannone back into the fold or to promote James Shea (I doubt he's ready, though). I honestly just wish that he had gone after Hugo Lloris last year. He'd be a brilliant keeper for us for the next 15 years or so. But yeah, it might be too late for that now.

Wojciech Szczesny: B

I toyed with the idea of giving both Szczesny and Fabianski B+ grades, but I decided on B's to emphasize my feeling that I don't believe we've solved Arsenal's goalkeeping problems (as I indicated at the bottom of my Fabianski grade). Getting that out of the way, though, Szcznesny had one hell of a first season for us. Like Fabi, he's a fantastic shot-stopper...and they've both made some pretty amazing saves this year. But again, they both have made some very poor decisions that have cost us points...and a trophy. The latter is certainly true of Wojciech. His mistake in the Carling Cup final cost us that trophy (it was Koscielny's fault as well, I admit). I'm not sure who I like in goal more - Fabianski or Szczesny. They deserve to battle it out during the preseason, but I still can't say that I'm 100% comfortable with either yet. But the good news is that this position isn't the pressing issue it used to be. The middle of the defense is easily the biggest weakness for the squad. And that might be more about Wenger's defensive philosophy than anything else.

Manuel Almunia: F

Yes, Almunia has never been a great goalkeeper for us, but I honestly don't remember him being this bad. The mistakes he's made this year (especially after the re-signing of Jens Lehmann) are some of the most perplexing mistakes I've ever seen. I honestly have no idea what's going on through his head while he's between the sticks. There's no explanation for the West Brom game. And I would seriously hope that Arsene Wenger is smart enough to admit that that performance was the final straw (though the final straw came much sooner than this with the Arsenal supporters). Almunia needs to be sold in the summer, though I'm not sure if Arsene can find a buyer at this point.

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