Almunia back between the sticks?
Having started the season anointed as Arsenal's number one following Wengers pre-season kick off announcement prior to the opening game at Anfield, Almunia could be in for a shock return against Huddersfield on Sunday. As it would seem evident that he is on his way out with Wengers blessing is there any point in him stepping between the posts for us again?
"The guy who plays on Sunday will be No 1. It is never for definite but it will be a consequence of what I have seen in pre-season." Arsene announced back in August expressing reservations about throwing Szczesny in to the arena
"He has not played one game in the Premier League," he said. "I believe he has huge quality but I believe it would be a great gamble to play him. Man United play with a goalkeeper who is 40 years old and Chelsea with a keeper with seven years in the Premier League. You need experience at the back."
As is often the case though fate takes a hand and an injury to Manuel in September`s shock home defeat to West Brom, in which he mishandled a shot to concede the third goal, opened the door for Fabianski whose stock among supporters had started the season even lower than that of the Spaniard.
Some good performances, notably a penalty save against Partizan Belgrade, a sharp stop from Silva`s early attempt in the away game against City and some key saves away at Wolves and Everton slowly earned Lukasz some confidence among supporters as the preseason 'keeper crisis' hysteria cautiously subsided. As Szczesny dithered a little before signing a new contract fate again took a hand and rewarded his decision to stay as a hip injury kept Fabianski out against ManU at Old Trafford. Szczesny deputised and though we lost did little wrong against a muted United attack.
After another injury kept Fabianksi out after 4 games over the new year Szczesny has had a run of 6 games 4 of which were against championship opposition and the other two against lowly premier league teams West Ham and Wigan. Although any team is capable of providing goalkeeping challenges as Bradley Johnson demonstrated for Leeds, it`s the sort of relatively tranquil run that any premier league keeper would enjoy. "Did anyone even notice I was playing?" Szczesny apparently tweeted after the Ipswich game at the Emirates.
On the surface there doesn`t seem any need to give Almunia anymore playing time but then are two keepers, one still very inexperienced, despite all his promise, enough to cover us sufficiently in the challenges that are hopefully still to come this season? There is still much we don't know about Szczesny. How will he react if he goes through a bad period as almost inevitably he must? He doesn`t look as though he`ll lose his nerve in big games when put under genuine pressure but confidence can be a fragile commodity. Though less than the gamble he might have appeared to Arsene at the beginning of the season all young players are invariably vulnerable to inconsistencies. Fabianski`s current injury is apparently a minor setback to shoulder injury that has persisted for a few weeks. Maybe he`ll recover fully and never experience another problem for the rest of the season but minor injuries can sometimes prove annoyingly persistent.
Almunia's time is all but over at the club but whatever the criticisms of him he has played almost as many games as Lehmann and provides us with good level experienced cover. It makes sense to keep him until the end of the season and it's probably wise to let him have a game against Huddersfield at the weekend too.