Arsene Wenger uncharacteristically splashed the cash to secure the signatures of experienced Frenchman Sebastien Squillaci and emerging talent Laurent Koscielny in the wake of the summer’s defensive departures. Even at this early stage, their captures appear to represent good business, with Squillaci adding much needed experience to the defensive ranks and Koscielny already showing sings of forming a strong partnership with Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian was an excellent acquisition at the start of last season and that he is considered a mainstay of the side after only one full campaign is testament to his influence and ability. Koscielny has the potential to make a similar impact and this is no surprise given Wenger’s track record of signing defenders, but his recruitment record in the goalkeeping department is not so dazzling.
He inherited David Seaman and for many years had very little to do in terms of strengthening his goalkeeping options. Many deputies came and went during Seaman’s reign and the first real attempt to appoint a successor was hardly successful. Richard Wright’s arrival in 2001 was thought to be the answer with the young keeper widely tipped to replace Seaman for both Arsenal and England, yet he failed to make the grade. It was only after Seaman’s departure following the 2003 FA Cup triumph that Wenger signed an established international to take up the mantle. Jens Lehmann was a stark contrast to ‘Safe Hands’ with his outspoken views and more than vocal command of the backline, but he provided continuity from Seaman’s time at the club. With Lehmann at the back, the Gunners continued to experience similar success, and in his first full season Arsenal navigated their way to the league title in their undefeated ‘Invincibles’ season. Of course, Lehmann had his well-documented goalkeeping moments of madness, but was an otherwise reassuring influence for the defence. Eventually he lost his place to current No 1 Manuel Almunia through a combination of media comments and diminishing performances. Having been deposed by his understudy, it became apparent that the German’s time was up with the north London club.
Lehmann’s example highlights that when a player no longer retains the manager’s faith, he is quickly cut loose. Yet, having survived for so long with so many glaring errors under his belt, does Almunia retain the manager’s faith or are there simply a lack of viable options? It is clear that Wenger has thought of promoting his understudy to take up the jersey, in a similar vein to the way Almunia usurped Lehmann’s apparent throne. Whereas Almunia came in and impressed, the current understudy Lukasz Fabianski has hardly covered himself in glory when stepping up to the plate and has proven no more reliable than the Spaniard. With Wenger’s outspoken comments on reckless challenges and players getting pole-axed, maybe it is time he axed his Pole. The week’s events highlight this point neatly with Fabianski beaten all too easily by Robbie Keane’s midweek strike on the way to extra-time victory over Tottenham.
Almunia made an altogether more costly mistake at the weekend, but had previously increased his stock by saving a penalty and this occurrence may give an insight into the problem. He has always been something of a specialist at saving penalties, and the reason for this appears to be the increased preparation time and lack of positioning needed. When he has time to set himself and focus on the task, he is capable of producing stunning saves, yet when pressed into action his positioning and reactions come into question. Yet, not to be outdone by his understudy’s errors, he misjudged Gonzalo Jara’s effort in an all too painful reminder of Juliano Belletti’s winner for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final- an indication that nearly five years later he is still hampered by the same errors.
With Wojciech Szczesny knocking on the door, perhaps it is time for Wenger to introduce another youngster. To pin all hopes on someone so young appears desperate and na