Arsene’s keeper gaffe could prove costly

THERE was no disguising Gooner disappointment as the transfer window closed without Arsene addressing the Gunners’ much-debated goalkeeping situation.

Mark Schwarzer might’ve been an improvement but I was never convinced he was the answer.

Yet, even if the Aussie was only intended as a stop-gap solution, from an economic perspective, surely the disparity between the amount the Arsenal were ready to pay and the figure Fulham were willing to accept, this rumoured half a million quid, would’ve seemed a relative pittance if Schwarzer’s presence proved to be the difference between us fending off the challenge for our seat at Europe’s top table, or conceding the goals that could cost us Champions League qualification.

Moreover, le gaffer’s apparent inertia in the face of incessant media stories linking us with virtually every goalie on the planet, is sure to have an impact on the incumbent.

I must admit to feeling sympathy for Manuel Almunia, as not only have his confidence and self-esteem endured a shellacking, but the pressure upon the Spaniard has increased exponentially as a result of all the speculation.

Our goalie’s former happy-go-lucky persona certainly wasn’t apparent amidst his frown lines at Blackburn and few will have been more relieved to come away with the win. While the majority of his team-mates contented themselves with a perfunctory clap in the direction of the travelling faithful at full time, Almunia made a point of throwing his shirt into the crowd.

Maybe I’m guilty of reading too much into a routine post-match ritual but observing this from the upper tier in the knowledge we’d all been hoping for a new, improved model, I got the distinct feeling this was a deliberate effort to begin to rebuild the faith he must sense has been lost, although you can’t rebuild something which never existed! There’s little point in griping. Getting on our keeper’s back isn’t going to help us win, nor will it repair his deflated confidence but when you combine Almunia’s insecurity with our skipper’s supposed discontent, I can’t help but be perturbed about the potential disunity.

Goal celebrations are an obvious litmus test of the amount of love in the air and will often offer an inkling as to whether team spirit continues to quell individual ambition. But as can be seen in the ebullient mood at Chelsea, it’s all too easy to be happy campers when everything is hunky dory. It would be naive to expect a “one for all” attitude to continue to prevail at the highest level nowadays. Nevertheless, there’s no mistaking the signs of a team that’s hungry for success and who are prepared to run their socks off for one another, compared to a collection of individuals far more inclined to point the finger of blame.

I guess we’ll have to wait until Gunners’ backs are against the wall to discover the truth in Arsene’s conviction that his squad have matured into the real deal. To date, we’ve witnessed conflicting evidence in Theo Walcott’s fervour and Cesc Fabregas’ apparent disinterest.

You’ll have to forgive my scepticism but it seems to have been forgotten that le Prof actually promised us a trophy last season! Perhaps what bothers me most is that in spite of the economic climate and the evidence of empty seats elsewhere, I can’t escape the sense the Arsenal have struck on a formula whereby the club can maintain a healthy balance sheet with minimum investment on the pitch. It’s as if we’ve become a business first and football club second and so long as Wenger works the oracle of Champions League qualification, there’s no real incentive to mortgage our future merely to satiate the punters’ desire for silverware.

One might contend that instead of investing in a keeper, the Arsenal chose to spend £4m on the Club Level redevelopment, offering a guaranteed tangible return from £190-a-head diners in the ritzy new restaurants. But while the government (we the people!) pays the tab for obscenely haute cuisine, written off against the tax liability of a privileged few, such sound economic logic leaves the vast majority of us looking at the likes of Joe Hart with our tongues hanging out.


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