Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Arsenal desperately need a 'Van der Saar'

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There are 20 days left in the transfer window and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is peering through with some intent - intent to sign a new goalkeeper.

On his horizon must be the happenings at the City of Manchester Stadium and Villa Park. Quite simply, he needs a new last line of defence. Once again, the shortcomings of Lucasz Fabianski were highlighted during the bizarre friendly against Legia Warsaw in Poland on Saturday. Arsenal won 6-5 after they trailed 3-0 at one stage. And that trio were conceded by Fabianski.

The first - a 20-yard thunderbolt of a shot - he could do nothing about. It would have beaten two goalkeepers. But the other two came from crosses into the area .... the zone that goalkeepers traditionally patrol with some menace.

One shout of "my ball" and the likes of Pat Jennings, David Seaman and Jens Lehmann - eventually - would scatter all before them.

Fabianski has great reflexes, is what they call in the trade "a good shot-stopper", but he lacks that dominating presence. "Doesn't fill the goal, does he ?" was the opinion of one former top-class keeper.

Lovely guy he may be, great goalkeeper Fabianski is not.

That threatens to be Arsenal's achilles heel this season. And that is why Wenger is monitoring events at Manchester City and Aston Villa.

In the background he has Wojciech Szczesny, a 19-year-old of immense potential who will the long-term solution to his problem.

What Wenger needs is a quick-fix and that is why he first had Mark Schwarzer of Fulham on his shopping list. At 37, he would have been ideal. That plan seems to have evaporated and the attention has switched to Frad Friedel at Villa and either Shay Given or Joe Hart at City.

Friedel and Given fit the bill perfectly. Both will be good for the next two years while Szczesny matures and is ready for first team duty on a regular basis but Wenger would take Hart in the blink of an eye. Given Hart's age, that would a frustration for Szczesny but rather that problem for Wenger than the current dilemma. He also has Manuel Almunia on the books but he has also been found wanting at times.

Wenger was fortunate when he arrived. At the time - back in October 1996, he inherited Seaman who was ranked the best in the world. He also did well with Lehmann who, once he adjusted to the buffeting a goalkeeper in England is expected to tolerate, was a huge asset.

Since then, there has always been an air of uncertainty where the goalkeeper is concerned. Until he finds the answer to that poser, Arsenal will always look vulnerable.

The goalkeeper should be the first name down on the team sheet and not just because he invariably wears the number one jersey. His name should be down as Mr Dependable, the rock on which the team's defence is built.

Just who is in goal for Arsenal appears at the moment to be the last decision Wenger makes.

Wenger is not the only manager to suffer in similar circumstances. It happened to Sir Alex Ferguson in the post Schmeichel era. He eventually signed Edwin Van der Sar and the success and stability returned. Wenger is now looking for a similar solution.

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