Wilshere Makes his Return and Almunia Talks about Arsenal’s Goalies
The last time I saw Jack Wilshere kick the ball for Arsenal, he wore a Arsenal’s navy blue outfit in an Emirates Cup encounter against Boca Juniors in July 2011. We had learned that he had suffered a stress fracture to his ankle and he was going to be out for a long time…no one told us that it would last this long though.
While it was obvious that he wasn’t going to play any time soon for the Gunners, Fabio Capello and Stuart Pearce were hopeful that he was going to recover in time to feature in the European Championships as well as the Olympic Games, as he had reiterated his desire to be that of the once-in-a-lifetime Team Great Britain squad.
Of course, there were more niggling injuries and setbacks but the club remained patient because they’ve been there and done that with players out with long-term injuries – Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky, Eduardo da Silva, Abou Diaby…the list goes on.
Speaking of Diaby, Arsene Wenger has admitted that he took a gamble on the lanky Frenchman’s fitness, and he’s hopeful that it doesn’t come back to haunt the team. However, Wenger was mindful about the personnel playing in Diaby’s position with the likes of Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Emmanuel Frimpong and of course, Jack Wilshere causing him not to delve into the transfer market for a new midfielder, despite the sale of Alex Song to Barcelona.
Arsenal’s Under-21s visited the Hawthorns to take on West Brom’s Under-21s and there were some pretty familiar names in the Arsenal setup. Damian Martinez was between the sticks for the young Guns with other notable figureheads like Ignasi Miquel, Nico Yennaris and Frimpong all starting as well. The spotlight was on Jack Wilshere that came out for the first time with the No. 10 on his back.
With no way in Hell for folks like me to watch the game live, I had to make do with tweets from @ArsenalLive and I was reading about impressive stuff from Wilshere. After the best part of one hour, Wilshere was withdrawn from the pitch and there were no setbacks whatsoever.
Arsenal Under-21s lost the game through a solitary goal from West Brom’s Yassine El Ghanassy but the idea of Wilshere getting one hour under his belt brought butterflies to my tummy. The prospect of watching Wilshere, Arteta and Santi Cazorla man the midfield is just beyond the horizon and I know that many Gooners are looking forward to that.
Shortly after the game, Frimpong took out time to talk to a few media Vultures about his “best friend” Wilshere,
“I’m happy for him to be back playing with the team again and to see a smile on his face. “After 14 months out, he did very well and he can be pleased with his performance.
“When you’ve been out for so long, it’s only natural you’re going to be tired [afterwards]. He needs more games to get fit. I think the England and Arsenal fans should be excited to see him back again.
“He’s probably my best friend at the Club. It’s only right because I’ve known him for 11 years. I’m just happy to be playing alongside him and I thought the team did well even though we lost the game – we can take some positives.”
Frimpong played for 70 minutes as well and with Diaby out injured till God knows when, Wenger could draft the Denchster back to the first team to allow Arteta go back to doing what he does best.
Elsewhere, ex-Gunner, Manuel Almunia, has been on the news, as he had a word or two to say about Arsenal’s custodians between the sticks. The 35-year-old hag made 175 appearances for the Gunners, keeping 53 clean sheets in the space of eight years.
Almunia did well in the 2007/08 campaign to reclaim the No. 1 spot from Mad Jens Lehmann and he went on to produce consistent displays for Arsene Wenger’s side. With his deputy, Lukasz Fabianski, not ready to plunge for first team action via his countless howlers, Almunia allowed complacency to creep into this game and the last straw was in the 3-2 home defeat to West Brom, where he was at fault for two goals at least.
After hacking Peter Odemwingie in the box, Almunia atoned for that gaff with a penalty save. However, his second half display was a nail in his own coffin as he let a simple Gonzalo Jara shot skip past him and he was caught in No Man’s Land allowing Jerome Thomas to put West Brom three goals to the good. A late surge from Samir Nasri wasn’t enough to salvage a point for Arsenal.
From there onwards, Fabianski was given another shot to stake a claim for the No. 1 jersey and he took his chances. A shoulder injury to Fabianski paved the way for Szczesny thereby sending Almunia further down the pecking order. When Szczesny ruptured a ligament in his finger after attempting to catch a shot from Dani Alves in March 2011, Almunia was given another chance to safeguard Arsenal’s goal and he didn’t do half bad in the 3-1 loss to Barcelona.
Arsenal visited the Hawthorns again, and Almunia achieved legendary status with this awkward moment,
Many fans couldn’t forgive Almunia after this, so Szczesny had to be rushed back to action because the idea of having Almunia between the sticks was more scary than going into a location where an anaconda lives. If my memory serves me right, Arsenal had to resort to coaxing Mad Jens Lehmann out of retirement to play the game against Blackpool.
Almunia’s final season at Arsenal was very gloomy from his side, as Wenger kept him in the dark, loaned him out to West Brom, recalled him from the loan during another goalie injury crisis before letting him leave on a free transfer.
Now keeping for npower Championship side Watford, Almunia has given his take on Arsenal’s present crop of goalies, as well as chipping a few words about his time with Lehmann. Almunia believes that all three goalies are “similar” but he had specific words for them as well.
“Szczesny is like me; tall, authoritative and good with his feet. But he needs to be more mature. Not on the pitch, where he’s good, but he needs to be more quiet and settled off the pitch. He should think twice before doing certain things. When you’re young you do things without thinking.”
Did Almunia say that Szczesny is like him? *holds laughter*. In my honest opinion, the Pole is not good with his feet as Almunia had stated. In as much as I’m a great fan of Szczesny, his distribution stinks and he really needs to work on it.
Although, I absolutely agree with Almunia on Szczesny sorting out his life off the pitch. He’s always in the news for this or that and that’s not what he’s meant to be doing at this stage in his career. My opinion though.
On Szczesny’s deputies, Fabianski and Mannone,
“Lukasz and Vito are more explosive and make more spectacular saves.”
True. Fabianski and Mannone are the keepers that live for the cameras.
Both goalies prefer to stay on their lines and wait to make a superb stop rather than attacking the ball to dominate their box. Heaven knows that with Szczesny in goal, Arsenal wouldn’t have conceded such cheap goals against Chelsea because balls launched into his box are his bread and butter – with the exception of his recent howler against Southampton though.
But I’m sure you get my drift.
Finally, on Lehmann,
As everyone knows we had a difficult relationship for years, but Jens is a lovely person off the pitch.
“He didn’t hate me, but Jens is the kind of person who, when someone tries to take his place, he fights and fights and fights to recover it. He’s very competitive and I just got in the way.
“In his last season at Arsenal there was a team dinner for us all to say goodbye. Jens and me didn’t speak — and I mean never — but he came to me with his wife and showed me a totally different face. I thought, ‘oh my God, who is this? This is not Jens!’ We talked about life, football, Spain, Germany, everything.”
To wrap it all up, Almunia stated that he would have left Arsenal a long time ago but he chose to sit out his contract to the end because it was very lucrative.
We cry about having a massive wage bill yet we pay deadwood like Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner, Seb Squillaci, Marouane Chamakh, Johan Djourou and others in this class fat salaries yet we get no output from them.
More on the Olympiakos game tomorrow.
That’s a wrap folks.
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A Tribute to Manuel Rivero Almunia: Loyalty Against All Odds
After spending eight seasons on a nomadic spree with six different Spanish sides, Manuel Almunia joined Arsenal for £2.6m in 2004. In his early years at Arsenal, he played the role of second fiddle to Mad Jens Lehmann. He was termed as Arsenal’s “cup” keeper because he got his chances in the Carling and FA Cups.
His only major piece of silverware with the club is currently the last piece of silverware Arsenal has won, the 2005 FA Cup.
His breakthrough season was undoubtedly the 2007/08 campaign were he notched up 38 appearances in all competitions and that was the last campaign Arsenal were serious contenders for Premier League honors.
Arsenal’s Champions League adventure was halted in the hand of a familiar foes, Liverpool. The game will be fondly remembered for Theo Walcott’s 80-yard dash but Kolo Toure’s stupidity late on cost a penalty that was slammed home by Steven Gerrard. Ryan Babel added insult to injury to put the game beyond doubt.
Arsenal was also humiliated in the FA Cup after being on the end of a 4-0 thrashing by Manchester United. Arsene Wenger had set his sights on a crunch encounter with the defending Champions League holders, AC Milan, so he tweaked his squad a bit handing starts to the likes of Justin Hoyte et al.
The way Arsenal surrendered its winning position in the league that season was shameful. At February, Arsene Wenger’s team was five points ahead of Manchester United and eight points clear off Chelsea.
The team capitulated from within with those quick-fire draws against Birmingham, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Wigan coupled with the losses to Manchester United and Chelsea saw the Gunners finish the campaign in third place.
Almunia did really well in that campaign.
Maybe it was the blonde hair.
Mad Jens Lehmann waved his goodbyes and returned to the Bundesliga leaving the Number One spot available for the taking. Knowing fully that his place wasn’t threatened by the then-error prone Lukasz Fabianski, complacency started creeping in to Almunia’s game.
However, he was a vital part of the Arsenal side that had an impregnable home record in the Champions League in the 2008/09 season. Arsenal were paired in a group containing FC Porto, Fenerbahce and Dynamo Kiev. The home ties were 4-0, 0-0 and 1-0 respectively.
Arsenal beat Roma 1-0 at the Emirates and won on penalties in the second leg. Arsenal then drew away in the quarterfinal against Villarreal before thumping them 3-0 at home.
While Mad Jens Lehmann set the pace with a clean sheet record that stood at 10 games, Almunia on the other hand had five consecutive clean sheets at the Emirates before that horrible semifinal clash against Manchester United.
Like Thomas Vermaelen’s infamous slip in the San Siro that allowed Robinho to pull the trigger, Kieran Gibbs slipped at the vital moment to allow Park Ji-Sung put the visitors ahead. Cristiano Ronaldo’s 35-yard free kick still haunts me in my dreams and I was very glad to see the back of him when he secured that big money move to Real Madrid.
I actually hosted a party when Ronaldo was sold to Madrid. Like Thierry Henry before him, CR7 was a tormentor in chief to Arsenal and the rest of the Premier League teams. I was also ecstatic when a Wayne Rooney exit seemed on the cards but the sly fox used his exit claims to get a very fat salary.
The 2009/10 season was an on and off season for Almunia. He was blameless in the Champions League exit in the hands of Barcelona. Lionel Messi was on fire that day and I still have fond memories of his one-two with Mikael Silvestre.
His deputy Fabianski was between the sticks when Arsenal was knocked out of the Carling Cup against Manchester City. Stoke City also drive the nails in the club’s FA Cup coffin.
Arsenal had only the Premier League to fight for and Almunia and Fabianski played their part in yet another trophy-less campaign. The way Tottenham’s Danny Rose’s shot passed through Almunia’s hands was questionable and Fabianski’s inability to deal with a routine corner cost his team the game against Wigan.
That summer, the frustrations of the fans was well known to Arsene Wenger so he made it clear that he needed a new custodian between the sticks for the forthcoming season.
The media Vultures played their part in linking us to keepers from all over the Milky Way. This even caused the official Arsenal site to create a new column called “Transfer Leaked”.
Goalies like Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon were out of our reach so Wenger set his sights on the only Aussie that has been keeping since the pre-historic era Sir Mark Schwarzer. At 38, he was probably needed for a season or two so Wenger took a stand with his £2m bids. Fulham rejected both offers so we had to stick with what we had.
Almunia was heavily criticized for the cheap goal he conceded against David N’ Gog in the curtain raiser at Anfield. A routine clean sheet against Blackpool followed. He was also relatively untroubled against Champions League newbies Braga. He then put up a brilliant performance away to Blackburn.
When West Brom visited the Emirates last season, everyone expected a routine win. Almunia got injured when he clashed with Odemwingie but he took the wrong decision to stay on the pitch instead of relinquishing his place to Fabianski at half time.
His second half performance cost him his place in the team.
The defense was in shambles when Peter Odemwingie scored West Brom and he was expected to do better from a Gonzalo Jara shot that skipped past him. He was also in No Man’s Land in the buildup to Jerome Thomas’ third goal. Samir Nasri put up a late rally but it wasn’t to be.
Arsenal had dropped more points thanks to more suspect goalkeeping and that was the last straw for Arsene Wenger.
While Fabianski staked his claim as Arsenal’s Number One, Almunia spent a considerable time out injured. Out of the blue, Wojciech Szczesny emerged and his performances earned him a new contract which also indicated that Almunia had dropped two places down the pecking order.
With the January transfer window around the corner, Wenger told all interested parties that Almunia was available for a knockdown price of £1.5m. To be frank at that point, I wanted Almunia to take the offer from Malaga or Galatasaray because he’s approaching the twilight years of his career.
Instead of crying to the media Vultures about how is place had been lost, Almunia spent his time in the physio room regaining his fitness.
Fabianski’s shoulder injury meant that he had climbed one place to number two but when Szczesny got injured against Barcelona, Arsenal referred back to the old hag that was clearly out of shape and favor. The same man that was regarded as an outcast, Manuel Rivero Almunia.
When Dani Alves dislocated Szczesny’s finger with that free kick. I saw a goalie with unshaved beards running into the pitch and wearing his gloves like an upcoming youngster kid that has been dying for his chance.
The first goal was conceded to a player that has his own footballing planet. The second conceded was to a midfield demigod. The third conceded was to that wizard.
He still made a considerable amount of saves and put his body on the line like his life depended on it. Szcsesny was diagnosed to spend 6 weeks out but Almunia’s performances became shaky and confidence bereft till this happened…
He had caused more damage to himself than his team causing Wenger to bring Lehmann out from retirement to stay between the sticks. Szczesny recovered earlier than expected and the game against West Brom turned out to Manuel Almunia’s last for the club.
In eight seasons at Arsenal, Almunia had notched up 175 games for the Gunners, keeping 53 clean sheets in the process.
Manuel Almunia has revealed that he is ready to leave Arsenal at the end of the season, but insists he wants to remain in England:
“I’m looking for a nice move next season, I want to start a new episode of my life. It’s a very respectful relationship and now I’m free, I can do what I like and he’s happy with my work at Arsenal for ideas.”
“I have got lazy to move too far, because life here in London is fantastic and I hope I can have a club to go to next season so I can stay.”
I wish Manuel Almunia all the best and I’ll certainly miss him because he offered Arsenal the good, the bad and most certainly, the ugly.
Here’s to Manuel Rivero Almunia.
The soft spoken and mature man who remained loyal to Arsenal FC.
Against all odds.
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10 players that need to step their game up in the 2011/12 season
The 2010/11 season was a season to forget in Arsenal Football Club. A season that promised so much ended in shambles and the panic button was pressed so hard that it sprang out of the remote control. The club won the 2011 Emirates Cup following a draw with 7-time Champions League winners AC Milan and a 3-2 victory over Celtic. At the start of the New Year, Arsenal was the only club that was still eligible to win every competition football as a port had to offer but disaster struck as the season progressed.
The Gunners had another clear shot of silverware on the 27th of February when they took on Birmingham in Wembley but the game will be remembered for the error that won Birmingham the game after a mix-up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal was shown the exit door in the Champions League by Barcelona and Manchester United drove the nail in the club’s FA Cup coffin despite starting the tie with 7 recognized defenders. The Premier League offered the Gunners a chance to end the 6-year trophy drought as well as the 7-year Premier League drought.
The last Arsenal team that won the Premier League did it in grand style as they went to an entire season unbeaten so Wenger’s class of 2011 had it all to do when they were told that victories in their last nine games would have been enough to put their names in history. The last nine games that included: Blackburn (home), Blackpool (Away), Liverpool (Home), Tottenham (Away), Bolton (Away), Manchester United (Home), Stoke Rugby FC (Away), Aston Villa (Home) and Fulham (Away).
With Manchester United competing on three fronts (League, FA Cup and Champions League), Arsenal was expected to have the fresher legs and had the chance to rest because every game was played on Sunday but it wasn’t still enough for the Gunners as they decided to put up a dismal run of form that can be compared with the likes of Wigan, Sunderland and Wolves.
The run started with a bore draw at the Emirates against a Blackburn side that has a goalie that opens the floodgates anytime he plays against Arsenal. Mad Jens Lehmann came back from retirement to be the custodian between the sticks in the 3-1 win at Bloomfield Road against the relegated Blackpool so Arsenal was faced with the “week of destiny” with games coming up against Liverpool, Tottenham and Bolton. With Manchester United making steady progress at the summit of the table, there was no room for error but Farmer Emmanuel Eboue inspired an amazing comeback for Liverpool in the 101st minute after Arsenal had gone ahead in the 98th minute. The spoils were also shared in the North London Derby after an intense battle so Arsenal required a win against Bolton to stay in touch with the leaders.
After conceding a headed goal to loanee Danny Sturridge, Wojciech Szczesny spared Arsenal’s blushes by making a good penalty save before Robin van Persie brought Arsenal back into the game after a neat one-two with Francesc Fabregas. Nasri and Chamakh had the chances to kill the game off but it was Tamir Cohen’s header in the 90th minute that inflicted the final blow in Arsenal’s title aspirations.
The fact that Arsenal lost to a side that was pummeled 5-0 by Stoke Rugby FC wasn’t enough, the defeat also meant that Chelsea had usurped Arsenal to second place as the new challengers for the title and where really close but Manchester United’s character shone through when they needed it the most. I’m very certain if Manchester United or Chelsea were behind Arsenal with 3 points, the match would have ended in a draw or a win for Arsenal’s rivals because the squad’s mentality is very low.
The remaining fixtures were mere formalities so no eyebrows were raised when Manchester City leapfrogged Arsenal to take the final Champions League automatic slot. At the end of the Premier League campaign, Arsenal scored 72 goals and conceded 43 with a final league position of 4th place after amassing 68 points. Some players like Robin van Persie, Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri, Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna et al could raise their heads high and pat themselves in the back for a brilliant season but I’m going to lay emphasis on 10 Arsenal players that were largely disappointing in the entire campaign and they need to step their game up or face the axe.
Here’s my take on the infamous ten.
10. Manuel Almunia
After doing so well to render mad Jens Lehmann out of business, Manuel Almunia became a shadow of the blonde haired player that took the Premier League by storm and saved a million and one penalties at the Emirates. Anytime the name West Brom will be mentioned while he’s asleep, I’m pretty sure that he’ll scream and start having nightmares because West Brom was the club that sent Almunia’s Arsenal career into oblivion both home and away. Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone are clearly above the Spaniard and he has been heavily linked with a move to Spain or Turkey. I just hope that Arsenal can do its best to get at least £1m for the aging goalie.
9. Denilson Perreira Neves
Even though he has been packaged in a box and has been sent across the Atlantic to his previous employers, Denilson was a false clone of the player that featured in over 50 games for Arsenal in the 2008/09 season. It’s true that Wilshere’s emergence last season limited him to a meager appearances but Denilson was an absolute stinker in 90% of the games he played for Arsenal last season. So bad that he couldn’t even play well against the lowly sides Arsenal faced in the Cup competitions. He was the first player to wave the white flag shortly after the Fulham game and I’m pretty sure that he won’t wear the Red and White ever again.
8. Abou Vassiriki Diaby
In the summer of the 2008/09 season, Abou Diaby was the reason Samir Nasri suffered a broken leg in Austria but he probably got himself acquainted with a female physio working at Arsenal because he spent more times on the treatment table than on the pitch. His appearances were so low than 21 players in the 25-man squad list had more minutes than him. Diaby is a man that plays with a loose nut in his brain and he can be very frustrating to watch at times. So frustrating that a gooner threw his footwear at the television in a public viewing centre in my days at Owerri; a television that did not belong to him.
If Diaby continues in this mold, his Arsenal days will definitely be numbered and he has already started the season with a 10-week layoff thanks to the demons of injury.
7. Tomas Rosicky
“Little Mozart” as he is fondly called in some parts of the World suffered an injury that was more than enough to make him announce his retirement from the beautiful game but he has done really well to fight his ‘enemies’ to stay fit. However, his injury has taken its toll on his football and Rosicky was a fringe player that offered nothing to the club last season. He was afraid to go into any tackle and the goal he missed against Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter final was more than enough to shatter someone’s confidence. TR7 has been okay from the preseason games I’ve watched so far so he’ll have to step his game up because the attacking midfield position is suddenly up for grabs again with the imminent departure of Fabregas and Nasri.
6. Farmer Emmanuel Eboue
Farmer Emmanuel Eboue has had his moments at Arsenal football club. Starting from when he usurped Lauren to become Arsenal’s No. 1 right back to when he scored his first Arsenal goal against Hamburg in the 2006/07 season. From when he scored that belter in the same season against Reading in the Carling Cup till when we was promoted to the position of a right winger after the acquisition of Bacary Sagna. There were times where he turned into a diving specialist to win set pieces for Arsenal, there was also a game where he turned into a pantomime villain against Wigan and he was substituted despite coming on as a sub. Last season, Farmer Eboue was a major disappointment and he dug his own Arsenal grave when the Gunners hosted Liverpool on the 16th of April, 2011 after conceding that penalty thanks to a push on Lucas Leiva. Farmer Eboue has been linked with a move to Galatasaray and it seems as if he’s odds on to complete the move.
5. Sebastien Squillaci
The Squisha (as I prefer to call him) arrived at the shores of London with an amazing trophy haul from his days in France and Spain and the “experienced” tag on his head that was supposed to be a very in teaching the younger ones like Djourou and Koscielny but he turned out to be the right-footed version of Mikael Silvestre. He even lived up to the Legendary No. 18 own goal billing by heading the ball into his own net when Arsenal played Wigan in the last game of 2010. Pascal Cygan (No. 18) did it in his time and Silvestre (No. 18) was the quickest of them all with an own goal on his debut. To be frank, I don’t even want Squillaci to step up his game; I want him to enter the nearest train through the English Channel to play for any French outfit available. Seeing that guy wear the Red and White sends chills down my spine most times because you can never predict the next calamity he’s about to make.
4. Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs spent a long while out injured two seasons ago when he damaged his metatarsal in the Champions League match against Standard Liege but he wasn’t too impressive when he deputized for Clichy last season with his most glaring mistakes present in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter final. His positioning was questionable and he offered no threat going forward but Clichy’s exit has given him the chance to shine this upcoming season so I hope that he’ll do well to grab the bull by the horns and balls.
3. Nicklas Bendtner
Bendtner scored nine goals for Arsenal last season but the bulk of his goals were scored against lowly sides in the Cup competitions because of his limited chances. He banged in a hattrick against Leyton Orient and he scored a peach of a goal when Arsenal played Ipswich in the Carling Cup semis but Bendtner has decided to call it quits in his fledgling Arsenal career because he feels that he’s good enough to start every game in an Arsenal side that has a Robin van Persie. Many clubs have placed their radars on Bendtner but he still remains an Arsenal player so he’ll have to step his game up if no team decides to buy him again because he has a contract to fulfill.
2. Marouane Chamakh
Last season, Arsenal’s new boy deputized for the injured rVp and B52 and he was in a hot streak with 10 goals in his first 21 appearances but the goals dried up faster than the wells in the Sahara, Kalahari and the Atacama deserts put together with one goal in his remaining matches for Arsenal. He hasn’t impressed yet this preseason but I truly hope that he’ll step his game up because we can’t bank on van Persie to stay fit for an entire season.
1. Andrei Arshavin
With 10 goals and 17 assists to his name last season, people will still ask,
“Why on Earth is Arshavin’s name doing in the same list with Manuel Almunia?”
But the truth is that Arshavin was quite disappointing even if he delivered. He was so disappointing that he lost his place in the starting lineup to Theo Walcott and he didn’t win it back till the season ended. With Nasri going out the way very soon, Arshavin will only have the threat of Gervinho to contend with even though Carlos Vela, Ryo Miyaichi and the Chambered Ox are somewhere in the mix.
I just hope that these Gunners will do well to kill their personal demons and play very well in the upcoming season because Arsene Wenger’s future might just be in their hands.
Going trophyless again after selling key players like Fabregas and Nasri will definitely backfire on Wenger.