Given the strong form of Lukasz Fabianski over the past month, Wojciech Szczesny’s impressive performance against Newcastle United and Arsene Wenger’s unconvincing comments on Thursday afternoon about the state of his elbow injury an important question now needs to be asked: is Manuel Almunia’s career at Arsenal over?
In the manager’s usual weekly press conference — in which he also stated that Kieran Gibbs will be out injured for two to three weeks and finally explained Abou Diaby’s Manchester City absence, an ankle injury that will also keep him out from this weekend’s game against West Ham — he looked confused when announced the state of Almunia’s injury.
“I don’t know less… err… maybe one to two weeks?”
Wenger is usually a master at covering up for his players — remember a similar situation for Jens Lehmann in his retirement season? — but I think it’s fairly obvious what he’s up to here. I’d put all the money in the world on the fact that Almunia, who was certainly injured initially, is back to full fitness and the manager is using this opportunity to give his other goalkeepers a chance.
Does this mean we’ve seen the last of Almunia? The answer remains a mystery but unfortunate best-case scenario for the club, if not the player, is that we have. Not because he is a hopeless case, not because I or anybody else doesn’t want him to do well but because if he never makes it back into the team, it will mean that one or both of Fabianski or Szczesny will have taken his chance.
With Vito Mannone loaned out to Hull City and Almunia sitting on the sidelines, you can see what the manager is trying to achieve. He wants Fabianski to prove him right and make himself No 1 and he wants to give Szczesny a chance in the Carling Cup to show what he can do at a higher level. At this moment in time both are taking their opportunities beautifully and if it continues, then it will see Arsenal’s goalkeeper “problem” solved with the final piece of the puzzle being Almunia’s exit from the club midway through or at the end of the season.
It as interesting situation, one that I believe Wenger has handled particularly well, helped by Fabianski, Szczesny and Almunia’s professionalism since the Mark Schwarzer affair.
The outcome at this stage is uncertain but if things continue the way they are then, like Lehmann in 2008, I think we have seen the last of Almunia. And love him or hate him as a player, as a man who has always given his best for the club it will be sad to see him go.
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