We’ll start this off with possibly the most back-handed compliment ever aimed the way of Arsene Wenger. It speaks volumes about Wenger’s success with Arsenal that they have achieved so much without the services of a top class goalkeeper for so long. Since David Seaman hung up his ponytail – and possibly a couple of seasons before that – it has been a weak link in an otherwise strong chain. And Wenger’s blindspot to this seemingly obvious issue has cost Arsenal goals, points and games that have partially explains the underemployed trophy cabinet at the Emirates Stadium.
There was no doubt that Jens Lehmann was a very talented player, but the sudden rushes of blood to his head regularly brought his team a lot of unnecessary trouble. His successor, Manuel Almunia is again not without ability, but he shares the same moments of weakness and the negatives seldom outweigh the occasional positive. As recently as the game with Liverpool, he made a weak effort to stop David N’Gog’s shot and made a regulation Steven Gerrard free-kick look like a physics defying banana shot all in the name of an elaborate dive for the cameras.
For years Given looked like the obvious solution to the problem position, but Wenger seemingly never felt it was a problem bad enough to warrant the swoop. Recent speculation suggests the Gunners’ boss feels Given’s 6ft 1 frame is insufficient to give him the command of the aerial battles Wenger desires. If anything, Given’s relative lack of height makes him a better keeper. He is aware that he may not have the dominance required at set pieces so often opts for authoritative punches when taller goalkeepers may be tempted to go for ill-advised catches. All round, Given is excellent and probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves due to the fact he’s never done it at a top club. In fairness, that credit needs to be earned, because being at a top club means two high pressure games every and a level of scrutiny that goes way beyond what a player will experience at the middle to lower ranking teams.
The move for Mark Schwarzer is odd. He’s a quality goalkeeper, but at best he’s a stopgap for a season or two before the same situation rears its ugly head again. For all the good Wenger has done for Arsenal and the English game, his struggles in the goalkeeper department have contributed to several barren years. He has the chance to change that and he should grab Given while he can.