Almunia continues to cost Arsenal

TIM KEEBLE, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 12:13 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Arsenal last won the Premiership title in 2004, when the famed "Invincibles" navigated the entire season without a defeat.

But since that time Chelsea and Manchester United have passed the league title and back and forth, with Arsenal's only real chance coming in 2008 when the Gunners finished four points off the pace.

One of the reasons for the disparity between Arsenal and its two main title rivals is money, with the Blues' Roman Abramovich pumping millions into his team on a yearly basis, while United continues to plug along as one of the richest clubs in the world.

However, there may be another common thread of success between Chelsea and United - goalkeeping.

Chelsea has thrived with Petr Cech in goal, while United's run of three successive league titles from 2007-09 came after Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar arrived at Old Trafford.

Arsenal, meanwhile, had a reliable man between the posts in the early part of the decade with David Seaman, who was then succeeded by Germany international Jens Lehmann.

Lehmann's first season as the number one goalkeeper came during the historic 2003-04 season, but ever since he gave way to the current starter in goal, Manuel Almunia, Arsenal fans have had to endure more than their share of horrific errors.

Arsenal is a team that has the kind of talent needed to compete with Europe's best teams, but when it comes to goalkeeping, Almunia leaves a lot to be desired. And until Arsenal can get a more stable man in goal, their league- title drought won't end anytime soon.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger enjoyed a good summer in the transfer window by all accounts, adding striker Marouane Chamakh as well as defenders Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci.

The addition of Chamakh was very much needed given the constant injury issues surrounding star striker Robin van Persie, while Eduardo, another injury-prone striker, was allowed to leave.

Chamakh provides a physical presence up top and gives the club good depth, while both Koscielny and Squillaci were needed to shore up a sometimes shaky back line.

Wenger was also able to hold off a strong charge from Barcelona for captain Cesc Fabregas, who played at the Spanish club as a youth before joining the Gunners.

But the one glaring omission from Wenger's summer shopping spree was a new man between the posts.

It appeared that Wenger would get his man in August as he pursued Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, a 37-year-old veteran who was potentially available with the Cottagers giving 25-year-old upstart David Stockdale a look.

Schwarzer openly spoke of his desire to join Arsenal, but after a couple of failed bids, including one that exceeded $6 million, Almunia remained Arsenal's number one.

To be fair, the Spaniard is capable of making the spectacular save, but he all too often gives away cheap goals at crucial times that cost his team valuable points.

Saturday's stunning 3-2 home defeat against West Bromwich was yet another example, and you have to wonder how much longer Wenger can look on in horror as his netminder fumbles away cheap goals.

Arsenal was certainly not at its best on the day, and after Almunia gave away a penalty kick for tripping a West Brom player inside the penalty area, he redeemed himself by saving the spot kick.

However, the Baggies went in front early in the second half and doubled their lead two minutes later on a terrible error from Almunia as he allowed a tame effort from Gonzalo Jara to dribble in off his leg.

To make matters worse, he was partially to blame again on West Brom's third goal as he came off his line to challenge for a ball but then stopped, allowing the ball to be crossed to the front of goal for an easy tap-in.

Arsenal rallied with two late goals to make it interesting, but not many teams have the ability to overcome those kinds of goalkeeping errors.

Wenger refused to place blame on Almunia after the match, although he has to be thinking how nice it would be to have a reliable man in goal, especially given how well Schwarzer played in a 0-0 draw against Everton for Fulham on Saturday.

The boss will almost have to continue his search in January when the transfer window opens back up, and although Schwarzer would likely top his wish list, it is not certain the move will go through with the two sides having already failed to agree to a deal in August.

That could force Wenger to look elsewhere, with Manchester City's Shay Given, and (according to reports) Sunderland's Craig Gordon being mentioned as possible targets.

The 34-year-old Given was beaten out in preseason by England international Joe Hart, who looks set to keep hold of the top spot.

Manager Roberto Mancini has already told Given that he would be allowed to leave, but you have to wonder how eager City would be to help out Arsenal with its goalkeeping situation, considering the fact that both teams will be jockeying for spots in the top four.

Gordon would also be an option, although it is debatable as to how much of an upgrade he would be over Almunia, considering the fact that he is struggling to get playing time behind 22-year-old Simon Mignolet for the top spot at Sunderland.

Wenger has put together a team that is capable of bringing back the glory days at Arsenal, but unless he addresses his goalkeeping situation fast, the days of the "Invincibles" will continue to be a distant memory.


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