Death At One's Elbow
Arsene Wenger confirmed today that Manuel Almunia will miss tomorrow`s trip to Belgrade for our second Champions League group game away at Partizan. A casual glance at Arsenal`s news now site sees the word "injured" appear in inverted commas several times in their headline reportage. I believe there have been innumerable times during his tenure when Arsene has concocted a diplomatic injury, either to protect under fire charges (Lehmann`s "injury" in August 2007) or for political reasons (Sylvain Wiltord and Edu`s "gardening leave" periods on the last years of their respective contracts). In this incidence however, I believe the injury to be genuine.
The reason I believe so is because of the vantage point of my seat at the Grove, I was able to easily cast an eye on Almunia in the minutes following his penalty save and there were clear signs of discomfort, as he flexed his right elbow and grimaced repeatedly. When one looks at his error for the second goal when he spilled Gonzalo Jara`s shot horribly into the net, it is easier to see how he could have spilled the shot if he felt tenderness in the elbow. A second`s hesitation as he anticipates contact and a subsequent bolt of pain upon contact with the ball could very easily lead to the sort of aberration we saw. Therefore, one must ask if Almunia`s biggest mistake was not coming off if he felt compromised by the injury. Many would perceive his and his manager`s insistence he carry on as a perceived lack of faith in an out of form Fabianski, yet Wenger was unrepentant today in his assertion that Fabianski would play tomorrow night, which doesn`t seem to suggest a lack of faith in the back up option on the manager`s part.
I realise that most Arsenal fans won`t entertain the proposition that Almunia`s mistake might generally have been down to mitigating circumstances. The truth is, most have waited for the error for a few months and were delighted to see it so they could howl about how correct they were. Largely, I have tried to ignore the criticism that has come Almunia`s way. That`s not to say his involvement in the second goal was not a quite grave error, but I only take people`s criticism seriously if they are also prepared to give praise when it is due. Up until Saturday, Almunia had enjoyed a very good start to the season and turned in some excellent displays, most notably at Blackburn. Most that are so enjoying berating him now were conspicuously silent when he was playing well. I am not saying that that means everyone should rate him highly as a goalkeeper, people are entitled to think that he is not good enough to be our number 1 and it`s not a view I find utterly disagreeable. However, if one is not prepared to be measured and give criticism and praise when they are due in equal measure, then it doesn`t become about sensible opinion anymore. It becomes a witch hunt, a prejudiced, jaundiced cacophony of bile and I think that to be the situation we find ourselves in with our goalkeepers now. People are perversely proud of their subjectivity in the matter and wear it like a badge. I have to say I find it all terribly sad and really rather futile. I`m not saying you have to believe that all is right with the goalkeeping situation because Almunia`s mistake may well have been and probably was down to injury, but surely it can`t hurt just to consider it for a second?LD.