Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jens Lehmann vs. Manuel Almunia: Who should be Arsenal's number 1?

Arsenal have only conceded three goals in five Premiership matches and two Champions League qualifiers this season. With such a god defensive record, we have no need to worry about our goalkeepers right? Wrong. Two of the three goals allowed were the fault of Jens Lehmann's errors, and the third (yesterday against Tottenham) could have been stopped by Manuel Almunia - albeit with some impressive effort.

However, while our stand-ins in the back line have been impressive (think Gilberto and Flamini) we have still given up far too many chances. Yesterday's game could and should have had a much higher scoreline if not for wasteful finishing on the part of both teams. What worries me about this, is that many of these chances come from goalkeeping errors.

Manuel Almunia is a completely inept decision maker. Yesterday he chose to charge out of the 18 yard box to try and smother Dimitar Berbatov. A one-on-one between a class striker and a goalkeeper rarely turns out well for the goalie, but the same situation outside of the box (where the goalie can't use his hands) favors the striker almost to the point of it being a sure goal. While a fabulous tackle from Kolo Toure may have saved Almunia's blushes, this error was surely as bad as any of Lehmann's.

There were other situations in yesterday's game where he did not run out when he should have. Rather than attempting to tackle the ball away from Berbatov in the box, Almunia waited for a shot. The shot did come, and he did save it, but again, the save was more because Berbatov shot at Almunia than because Almunia was well-positioned.

Another flaw of Almunia's is his distribution. While it has been better this season than in the past, it often seems as though Almunia is trying to pass the ball to the other team. While I don't doubt his ability at stopping the ball from hitting the back of the net, this is not enough to make a complete goalkeeper, and Manuel Almunia is therefore not good enough to be Arsenal's number 1.

That leaves Jens Lehmann (I'm discounting the young Lukasz Fabianski as a contender for the shirt for a while). Mad Jens was completely at fault for the goals conceded against Fulham and Blackburn, but he has not lost his confidence and has still made many good saves (for club and country) since those first two matches. It seems to me as though these were flukes and I have no doubt that when Lehmann returns (if Wenger chooses to play him) he will perform admirably.

Lehmann's shot stopping ability cannot be questioned, as he has made some fine reaction saves over the past seasons. In fact, the only worrying quality about the German international is his fiery anger. Lehmann has received far more bookings than a 'keeper should, and few will forget his red card against Barcelona in the Champions League final.

For now though, Lehmann is what we've got, and as he's better than Almunia, I say we play him.

Arsene Wenger has not given any clues to who he will choose when Lehmann is fit.

“At the moment I have not really wondered,” he said, “I knew yesterday that Jens could not play so we go for continuity at the moment.

"Almunia will play on Saturday, Lehmann is injured. He had to pull out of the second match because of his shoulder. He has bone bruising from that game at Blackburn.

"We’ll see what happens [when he comes back] but this is not the only difficult decision I have to make right now..."

Who do you think is the better keeper? Who deserves to be number 1 at Arsenal? Make your vote known in the poll.