Category Archives: History


Rogues Gallery: Cesc Fabregas

By Les Crang, Sr. Cescarian

If some day I leave Arsenal it will never be to sign for another English team. I’m very sure….How it happened [that Fernando Torres joined Chelsea from Liverpool], in so few hours, I didn’t expect it. I didn’t imagine Torres leaving the Premiership, but neither that he would leave in the middle of the season.

20th April,2011 Daily Telegraph

How the lies fall so easily from Cesc’s mouth. In writing this, I will say first off, I will try to be fair to him and look at his career with us with an open mind. But be aware, I can write his name, but I always refer to him as ‘the Spanish player’. So, if I seen to be dismissive of his career, that’s only because of him being dismissive to us in 2011 when Barcelona finally turned his head. What a shame. He could have been a legend, but to me he joins Frank Stapleton, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri. A turncoat. That is why I could not put a picture up of him in Arsenal colours. Petty? Certainly.

How different it all seemed to be when he first joined us from Barcelona youth set up, the La Masia. Cesc had been seen by two of Arsenal’s scouts at the U17 world cup tournament, where he was player of the tournament, ending shared top scorer with 5 goals. They eventually lost the final to Brazil, 1-0:-

Cesc would be one of three signings that Wenger made in the close season in 2003, costing £500,000. The other two signings would be Gael Clichy from Cannes as an 18 year old and Jens Lehmann from Borussia Dortmund. An outlay of less than £3,000,000 for all three players. By the time all three had left, Arsenal would bank almost £45,000,000. But i’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyhow, Cesc would make his debut in the League Cup game against Rotherham aged 16 years and 177 days old. On learning of his debut Cesc said:-

Getting involved with the Carling Cup was a big surprise to me…Normally the coach gives the team out the day before but he didn’t do it so I thought I’d be on the bench.

Vic Akers came the day before and asked what name I wanted on my shirt, how am I called, you know, because nobody knows me. I am very shocked to be in the squad and could never imagine being part of the starting line-up.

I then found out after the game that my parents already knew I’d be involved because one of the club’s staff had called them so say, he’s going to play tomorrow so come and watch him in his first game at Highbury. They enjoyed it so much.

Cesc would play a mere two more games. The next would be against Wolves, whom Cesc would score against them in a 5-1 win:-

This would make Cesc, Arsenal’s youngest ever scorer. It would also be the first game alongside Patrick Vieira, who said of him after the game:-

He has a brilliant future. He is fantastic. He can read the game really quickly. Nobody can say he is too young. I played first-team football with Cannes when I was seventeen.

The following season of 2004/5 Cesc would start to be a regular in the team, starting 24 games and 9 appearances as a substitute. Cesc would score his first league goal against Blackburn Rovers, the game that would create a record of 43 games undefeated over taking Nottingham Forest record of 42. The fans had started singing ‘He’s only 17, he’s better than Roy Keane’ (even though he was only 16). Wenger said afterwards:-

A boy of that age can have one good game but he is consistent, it is not stupid to say that he could be in the full Spain squad. They have a lot of midfielders but they shouldn’t be scared to bring him in.

If Cesc was impressing on the pitch with his feet, he was impressing with the fans, especially after ‘game 50’ at Old Trafford:-

After the match, rumours came out Cesc had confronted Sir Alex Ferguson, throwing a slice of pizza at the ‘great man’. This was later described by Ashley Cole, who said of ‘Battle of Buffet’ or Pizzagate afterwards in his biography:-

This slice of pizza came flying over my head and hit Fergie straight in the mush … all mouths gawped to see this pizza slip off this famous, puce face and roll down his nice black suit.

In his first full season, Cesc would be part of the FA Cup winning team of 2004/5 over Manchester United, when Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out.

This would be Patrick Vieira last piece of action for Arsenal, before being sold to Juventus for £13,750,000, for Cesc to take over his mantle in the centre midfield.

The season of 2005/6 would certainly indicate that Cesc had taken the mantle of Paddy. This can obviously be seen in the march to the Champions League Final. Jon Spurling, wrote about Paddy’s return to Arsenal the following season with Juventus in the champions league game at Highbury. It was a match which featured Vieira, the former Arsenal midfield Genral, facing Fabregas, Arsenal’s fresh-faced midfield lieutenant:-

Robert Pires early tackle on Vieira, which set up Cesc Fabregas’s strike, but the symbolism was clear; it simply wasn’t to be Vieira’s or Juve’s night. Arsenal fan John Lowry recalls: ‘It was lovely to sit behind the North Bank goal, and just enjoy the fact that Arsenal were demolishing Juventus. The match was largely about Vieira,.’

Ironically, in the Champions League Final, with Arsenal down to 10 men, Barcelona started to see how good Cesc was when Barcelona, trying to put some ‘bite’ into the midfield had started with Mark Van Bommel, rather than the returning Iniesta. Ironically, it was not until Cesc was substituted and Iniesta came on for Barcelona that the Catalians took advantage of Arsenal being a player down to equalise and then win the game.

Over the next five years, Arsenal would get to see the best of Cesc, with him becoming a full international and appearing in the 2006 World Cup.

So where does one start with his great games? The season of 2007/8 was probably one of Cesc’s finest, with so many goals and great performances. Cesc had felt shackled by Thierry Henry whilst he was at the club saying:-

Henry intimidated us. He is a great player, but it was not easy to play alongside him.

Henry’s departure in 2007, meant Arsenal had a new team and certainly a new focal point in Cesc. Kevin Whitcher wrote ‘With Flamini and Fàbregas prepared to contest the midfield, the team actually contained a more robust spine from defence to attack’. How true.

The other day, I sat down to watch Arsenal – Season Review 2007/2008 (I’m sad like that). I forgot how many goals Cesc scored. Like The first equaliser against United at home:-

Or the equaliser against Liverpool:-

Maybe the goal away to Spurs:-

What about the goal against the European champions, AC Milan in the San Siro:-

AC Milan vs Arsenal (Classic Match 2008) by Arsenal2011Season

So many great goals in a season which he would score 13 league and cup goals. It was not to hard to see that Wenger saw him as are most important player.

Cesc would have other great games for Arsenal. Perhap my two personal favourites being two 3-0 home wins. The first against Spurs in 2009, when Cesc scored a second goal from a Spurs kick-off, after RVP had put us 1-0 up (Sky was still showing RVP’s first when Cesc scored):-

Or maybe a couple months later when Cesc, with a thigh strain, was a substitute, came on for less than an hour, and scored two goals before being substituted. The Guardian headlined the game as ‘Cesc Fábregas’s brief masterclass keeps Arsenal upwardly mobile’.

By now, Cesc had taken over the captaincy at Arsenal from William Gallas, who had gone out late one night and been caught smoking. Many felt it was Gallas disintegration at Birmingham, after the Eduardo leg break that had made Arsene consider changing his captain.

On gaining the captaincy Cesc said:-

It is a great honour for me to captain one of the biggest clubs in the world.

It is a proud moment. I know it’s a big responsibility but together with my team-mates, I know we have the spirit and commitment to get back to winning ways and fulfill our potential.

Was Wenger right in building his team around him? Was Cesc really that great? To me no and no.

On Wenger building the team around him, actually, at the time (the season of 2004/5) it was tactically not. Matthew Whitehouse in his interesting book Universality – The Blueprint for Soccer’s New Era: How Germany and Pep Guardiola Are Showing Us the Future Football Game wrote :-

Cesc Fàbregas, Mathieu Flamini, and Alexander Hleb into the side. If this was Wenger’s belief – that the Spanish type of player was the future – then he was both right and wrong. The Spanish model of development, notably being put in place by Barcelona more so than others, was already over a decade old, having been set up around 1990 by Johan Cruyff. For Arsenal to overhaul their previous French/African type of player and style was risky, dangerous, and ultimately flawed.

What Wenger needed was some strength and height in the team (like Chelsea had done with Geremi, Essien and even the short but strong Claude Makélélé). As Gilberto Silva said in an interview:-

Patrick’s departure was a huge loss. It did give Cesc [Fàbregas] the chance to break through, but I don’t think I’m being too controversial by saying that Arsenal have never replaced Patrick’s leadership since then.’

Cesc was constantly under rumor that he would return to Barcelona. This seemed a repeat of another former Captain constantly rumored to be going to Real Madrid, Patrick Vieira less than 10 years before. The incessant tapping up of Fabregas by Barcelona players, who would say things like ‘Cesc has Barca DNA’, became sickening. Then, Spain won the World Cup and on the return flight, out came the picture of Pepe Reina and Puyol putting a Barcelona shirt on Cesc. In fun and jest they said. It hardly enamoured him anymore to Arsenal and had made it abundantly clear he would only return to Barcelona if sold.

As for his greatness as a player, i’m not really that sure. Often, Cesc would have an outstanding opening four months and then just disappear for the rest of the season. Fallacy? check his goal scoring stats for 2007/8. Most of his goals were scored at the beginning of the season. Though it would be unfair to say he totally faded at the end of the season, as he won a World Cup (2010) and European (2008) for Spain. Always nice that he put that extra effort in.

I also feel Cesc’s departure from Arsenal was poorly handled. As summer 2011 approached, Cesc, Captain of Arsenal, flew off to attend the Spanish Grand Prix as his teammates fought for fourth place against Fulham, hardly “captaining” the team. His refusal to entertain moving to any other club, plus a refusal to train with and play for Arsenal in the summer, meant we lost Cesc to Barcelona for the pittance of £35,000,000.

Worse, his leaving meant the end of Wenger’s project youth and essentially dismantled an established Arsenal team. Gael Clichy had left earlier in the close season and Nasri left soon after Cesc. As Kevin Whitcher said:-

If it came to pass that three of his young stars, who were supposed to stay in north London for their most productive years summarily departed, then ‘Project Wenger’ would be dealt a fatal blow.

It certainly was a blow to Arsenal as a team bereft of their entire core lost 8-2 to Manchester United in our third game of the 2011/12 season.

But I was quite glad that Pep Guardiola finally did get Cesc at Barcelona. Their annihilation in 2011 of Manchester United in the Champions League final (before Cesc joined) was an outstanding spectacle of tiki-taka football.

Then Cesc joined. A player they did not need and could not fit into the team. They needed a new striker to replace David Villa and a centre half to replace an aging Carles Puyol really. What team drops Iniesta or Xavi for Cesc? No team and certainly not Barcelona. So what to do? Pep, in his recent book said :-

Look at my last year with Barça. We changed everything and started using a 3-4-3 system so that we could accommodate Cesc Fàbregas.

They played Cesc as a false 10 and it worked with limited effect. In fact with Messi now the main striker, in Cesc first season Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions. But with no Eto’o, Henry, Villa (often injured) or Zlatan to help with the scoring, Real Madrid won the title by 9 points. Cesc added a mere 16 goals.

By April 2014, with Pep gone and Cesc not a regular in the Barcelona team he was booed in a home game with Atletico Bilbao. This followed strong speculation during the January window that Cesc was going to join Robin van Persie at Man U. 50% of Barcelona fans wanted him sold. It seems they checked and Cesc was only 50% Catalan DNA.

Although many Arsenal fans (I was one of them – Tim) wanted him back in the summer, I was certainly not one of them. He had made his bed. He had gone to a team that didn’t need him and couldn’t use him. He was an extra in a cowboy film dressed as Robocop. He then hinted he wanted to come back to Arsenal, but in the end joined Chelsea. We had signed Mesut Ozil (a better player than Cesc in my mind), and although Chelsea look likely to win the 2014/5 title i’m not worried Cesc didn’t join us. Since the beginning of 2015 he has been anonymous until he scored against QPR recently.

Cesc certainly did give us some wonderful years and goals (see below for his 57 goals). But he also left us with a ‘fait accompli’ on his departure to Barcelona in 2011. Thankfully we replaced him with an excellent stop gap in the much maligned Mikel Arteta. And since the stadium and corporate sponsorship deals have started flowing in, Arsenal have started signing some great players in Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, David Ospina, Gabriel Paulista, Olivier Giroud, Nacho Monreal and Alexis Sanchez. Cesc, at Chelsea, seems part of a machine. No longer the central point of a team. He is Eden Hazard’s water carrier. What a waste. Thankfully, we are moving in the right direction. I also do not think I am the only one who feels this. In So Paddy Got Up, Sian Ranscombe wrote of Cesc departure to Barcelona:-

I still think Dad summed up the feeling of the sad football fan the best with this comment: “I just get annoyed when people don’t love my club as much as me.” And isn’t that exactly it? Players can come and go, but we can’t. Or won’t.


The Gunners Pub Event: Seager, Hillier, Away Boyz and a Special event for David Rocastle 04.04.14 Plus Competition

By Les Crang, Chief Home Boyz


As it was Easter, I had no DIY to do (read, refused). I had said I would make my way to The Gunners Pub event prior to the Liverpool game at the Emirates. These events for the day included Dave Seager and was there to sign the excellent Geordie Armstrong biography, along with 1990’s midfield general and Louis Vuitton aficionado David Hillier. Followed by the Away Boyz and a charity event supporting Football Beyond Borders which was recently supported by Santi Cazorla, Football beyond borders is:-

Use[s] football to create a more equal and inclusive society in which young people from low income backgrounds have the opportunity to develop the skills, attitude and character to succeed in education, work and public life.

It had meant to be a brief visit, until I was told the day would also be an event about David Rocastle who sadly passed away 14 years ago this week (31.03.01). Most fans will know the story of David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle. For those that don’t, David Rocastle played for Arsenal between 1984-1992, mainly a wide right midfielder, but could also slot in the middle. ‘Rocky’ always put in a shift. He was hard, tenacious and skillful (George Graham enjoying the first two more). A player the fan’s genuinely liked and saddened by his departure to Leeds United in 1992. Check the video below to get an idea anyway:-

Anyhow, as it was an event for Rocastle, I quickly changed my plans to cover the event. Rocky was a special player, who meant I could enjoy watching Arsenal after much of a mediocre period seeing the between 1980-85. There was no way I was missing that.

My final reason for being there was I had also said I would meet Fredrik Karbin, who had come over from Sweden especially for the match, and to also catch up with with Lorraine, who I’d met previously at the Piebury Corner event last year.

Anyhow, for those that don’t know it, The Gunners Pub is on Blackstock Road between Finsbury Park and Highbury Barn and just around the corner from the Highbury stadium. For those that have not been, its worth a visit for the cornucopia of posters, programmes and shirts on the wall. Often live music at weekends, themed beer and food plus all Arsenal matches are televised. If you are making a visit to the Emirates I would certainly recommend it, especially as the Landlady and Landlord, Andy and the staff are always helpful, even though its often rammed match days.


The Gunners Pub pre game.

Anyhow, as usual I made my way there pretty early so as to speak to the people in attendance etc. I had meet the Landlord (Andy) and Landlady, who had set me up with a cold drink (I can’t that early). I had got there at 9.10am, the bar opened at 10am, but people were outside had people waiting by 9.45. By 10.30 the pub was rammed.


Geordie Armstrong Book on sale at The Gunners Pub

Anyhow, I’d gone to the event to meet some other gooners that had come from far and wide. Meet Graham Smith, who had flown down from Edinburgh for the game and had a chat with him. I had also met up with Fredrik Karbin, who had also flown over from Gothenburg for the game. We chatted about why he comes over with his mate from Stockholm. Really top fella.


Fredrik Karbin at The Gunners Pub.

Best of all, me and Dave Seager were interviewed by BT Sports with Alex Brooker for the Fletch and Savage show on BT Sport. Me and Dave were described as ‘Arsenal Bloggers’. I have not seen it on Television so if anyone has it, I would love to see it.

Interviewed by BT Sports with Dave Seager and Alex Brooker

Anyhow, Dave had come with Arsenal midfield general of the 1990’s David Hillier. I had asked for a photo of David and Dave. He was a bit surprised I didn’t want to be on the picture, just him and Dave (I get tense in front of camera’s ironically). But me and David Hillier had a chat about his time at Bristol Rovers (I used to live in Bath when they played there). Really nice fella, like when he’s on the Bergkamp wonderland  and Goonergirls podcast. No airs and graces. Dave had brought his excellent book Geordie on the Wing (competition to win a copy of the book at the bottom) which I would highly recommended you get a copy if you don’t have one now. Dave also gave £1 of his sales to Football Beyond Borders.


David Hillier at The Gunners Pub.

Anyhow, me and Dave had previously been discussing the excellent charity Football Beyond Borders in which Santi Cazorla announced as co-patron of Football Beyond Borders. Football Beyond Borders mission statement is:-

Football Beyond Borders uses the power of football to inspire young people to achieve their goals and make their voices heard.

You can either donate cash to help them or volunteer your time. Whilst the charity buckets were going around I spoke to Tom Rodriguez Perez who is head of communications for Football Beyond Borders. Anyhow I had a quick interview (it was fairly packed by 11am and Tom was very busy). Firstly I asked what FBB aim was, he said it was ‘to work with the disadvantaged in London between  the ages of 9-16…[Also]Those outside Schools between the ages of 16-21.’ FBB were also trying to ‘Hit goals for access to space ….[as well as] campaign for living wage at Premier division clubs.’ Anyhow, seriously have a look at the website. Really great stuff.


Football Beyond Borders at The Gunners Pub.

We then had The Away Boyz do a brief set prior to the match. If you are going to the F.A cup semi-final against reading they are playing at The Green Man (£2.00 entry fee). Really got to say they put on a really good show.

I then watched the match at the pub, which was great. It was full, but not rammed. Beating Liverpool so easily 4-1 is always great and and I had a brief chat to Lorraine and then made my way to the Arsenal supporters club, missing the rest of The Away Boyz set and auctioning of A Paul Merson signed Arsenal shirt and Ozil signed Real Madrid shirt for FBB. Plus I missed the section on David Rocastle as I had a bad knee (don’t ask) and had to be somewhere else. Hopefully the event went well.

I had gone to the supporters club to meet Davy Boyd and his mate. I talk quite a lot to Davy (and always hassle for retweets to), so it was great to meet him as he’d flown over from Belfast. We’d supposed to have met for the Hull game, but things went a little wrong. Anyhow, we down a good few pints and left about six for me to get home, discussing the win today, Rocky, Dave Seager’s book, favourite players and the delights of Belfast night-life. I then made my way home to the comfort of tea and slippers. It had been a long day.

Anyhow, I’d like to say a big thanks to all I met and The Gunnerspub for inviting me. It sounds weird, I love going to a match, but I really enjoy chatting to the ever helpful Dave Seager or meeting Fredrik, Graham and Davy for a beer and life as a gooner. Oh, and I love being interviewed on BT Sports.

Competition. To win a signed copy of Dave Seager’s book, Geordie on the Wing, signed by Dave Seager, Bob Wilson, David Hillier and the Geordie Armstrong’s wife daughter Jill Armstrong, answer the following question :-

Who is Arsenal’s most expensive signing at present?

Send the correct answer to by 12am GMT by 10.04.15 to win this brilliant book.



Rogues Gallery: Manuel Almunia

By Les Crang Chief Morris Dancing Correspondent

Arsenal and poor goalkeepers? Often seems a perfect combination on occasions. Jim ‘fingers’ Furnell in the 1960’s. Geoff Barnett in the 1970’s. George Wood in the 1980’s. In the 2000’s we had the delight’s of Manuel Almunia. Just the thought of Almunia make’s me shake. He genuinely seems a nice guy, but what a liability.

Manuel Almunia had started his playing career in Spain, playing for such Spanish greats as Albacete and Eibar, on loan from his club, Celta Vigo (who he never played for). In July 2004 Arsenal signed Almunia for an undisclosed fee with Wenger saying of the signing:-

We are pleased to have signed Manuel Almunia, who will provide good support to our squad. We have watched him for a while, and he proved last season during his time on loan at Albacete that he can perform effectively at the highest level.

We had signed Jens Lehmann the previous year, who had helped us win the league the previous season. But Almunia? Really?  Chelsea at the same time, flush with money from Russia and a young new manager in Jose Mourinho had gone and spent and spent big. Like any good manager Jose had built from the back and signed Petr Cech from Rennes for £7,000,000. A player Arsenal had been looking at whilst he was at Sparta Prague in 2002, but Cech revealed:-

Before I went to Rennes I was watched by Arsenal but when I couldn’t get a work permit the situation was missed, and at the last minute I think the person who was the chief scout at Arsenal didn’t think I was good enough for the English league. So in the end it didn’t happen.

Rennes signed him for a mere £5,500,000. We signed Almunia instead. In many ways I have never felt Wenger has ever signed a great goalkeeper (even Jens Lehmann had moments of madness if you had not noticed). But with the new stadium coming in the season of 2006-7, money was in short supply and in many ways Wenger’s hands seemed to have been tied.

Almunia would first come to prominence in the season of 2004-5, when Jens had a drop in form after a 2-1 defeat away to Liverpool, with Neil Mellor scoring a last minute winner from long range:-

The Guardian wrote of his brief honeymoon (and it was very brief) as custodian as :-

However, the problem for Lehmann is that although Almunia initially looked shaky, the Spaniard has since grown in confidence and has conceded just one goal in his past four games.

But with Almunia, disaster seemed just around the corner. My, did he have a disaster though. At home to Manchester United at Highbury. Having taken a 2-1 lead in the first half Almunia proved how poor he was. First the Cristiano Ronaldo goal. Although a defender seems to be covering the ball, Almunia rushes out of his goal, leaving the winger to cross to Ronaldo on the line to head in. That was bad enough. Then, United break forward and pass to John O’Shea to lob him.John O’Shea and chip in the same sentence should never happen. Again, out too early and down too early. He was thankfully then dropped.

In the season of 2005-6 Almunia made a few appearance for Arsenal, as Jens Lehmann was supreme on our march to the Champions League Final. Unfortunately, after 18 minutes of the final,Lehmann would be sent off and Almunia brought on. With 13 minutes to go, Arsenal were still leading until Henrik Larsson came on to change thing. For both goals, Almunia was beaten at his near post. A top keeper would have saved one at least in my opinion.

The following season, Almunia was predominantly used as our Cup goalkeeper, helping us get to the League Cup Final against Chelsea:-

Again, if you check the first goal, Almunia is not decisive in coming out to Drogba and gets down too slow. For the second, Philippe Senderos does his usual poor performance against Drogba, allowing him a free header. Two finals played. Two finals leading. Two finals lost. A top keeper keeps you in those games. I feel Almunia lacked that mental toughness to say ‘they will not pass’.

The season of 2007-8 would be the year Almunia came to prominence as  Jens Lehmann was unceremoniously dropped after a 1-1 draw with Blackburn, when Lehmannn fumbled a last minute free-kick by David Dunn. Kevin Whitcher wrote of his appointment as no.1 keeper:-

[Captain, William Gallas] May have missed his altercations with Jens Lehmann , but at least with the more amenable Almunia in goal he could concentrate.

The season of 2007-8 was a season we should have won the title. This is well encapsulated by Robert Exley excellent 6 part series The Nearly Men – Part Six: Fall and Rise… and Fall Again? At first Almunia played well, especially the penalty save at the Emirates against Spurs Robbie Keane, which we went on to win 2-1 :-

Unfortunately, Arsenal ended up with nothing by the conclusion of the 2007-8 season. As one author wrote of the 2007-8 season:-

Initially, Arsene Wenger’s brave new vision seemed to justified by results, with eight wins and a solitary draw from the first nine premier league games. Wenger told a friend ‘I am confident that we can challenge: the question is whether the youngsters can last a season.’ On limited resources, he had produced a group of artists and artisans, the sum total of whom was more than the contributing parts. How else could you explain the creation of a top-notch team with obvious deficiencies (Almunia, Sender and Eboue salient examples).

The following season would certainly show the deficiencies in two major departments at Arsenal, one would be the goalkeeping department. The second, more importantly, would be be Wenger’s total inability to buy a top quality replacement for Almunia in goal. in 2007 we had signed Łukasz Fabiański for £2,100,000, but he seemed no better either.

Season 2008/9 would again reveal (to the fans at least), how Almunia was just not good enough. Two home defeats would again underline this. First up, Aston Villa:-

Although Almunia saves a penalty (which he was actually quite good at to be honest), he’s done by two goals. The first he doesn’t come for a cross. The second, he’s beaten to his near post. Again.

The second was even worst. Almunia had an outstanding game at Old Trafford in the first leg of the ECL semi-final, with the BBC website saying:-

Arsenal were penned in for long periods as United played at the high tempo that suits them best, and it was only a mixture of the excellence of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and good fortune that kept the deficit within manageable proportions.

Almunia saved superbly from Wayne Rooney, denied Carlos Tevez with a double block and turned away Cristiano Ronaldo’s header from six yards as United turned on the style in a dazzling first 45 minutes.

The return game was an unmitigated disaster with Gibbs falling on his arse allowing Park to tap in and then Ronaldo scoring a free kick from 35 yards with (yes, you guessed) Almunia beaten at his post. We lost 3-1 and went out at the semi-final. A stage we have not reached since.

Ironically, if Almunia was bad for Arsenal, many still though he was good enough for England. Jonathan Wilson in his book The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper wrote of the dearth of English goalkeepers in the late 2000’s  :-

The catastrophe of English goalkeeping seemed clear, generating much handwringing but few solutions. At one point things seemed so bleak there was talk of trying to persuade the Italian Carlo Cudicini or the Spaniard Manuel Almunia to naturalise.

Arsene Wenger certainly concurred when a reporter asked why he had not signed a top goalkeeper:-

[AW]‘If Almunia was English, he would be an international’
[Reporters responses] ‘That’s a reflection on how poor English keepers are at the moment, and anyway he ain’t no Schmeichel. And the attack?’
[AW]‘You’re right.’

Still Wenger retained faith in Almunia. With Almunia consistently being inconsistent. The season of 2009-10 would again underline how poor he was evidence? Maybe the 3-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion:-

Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion Video… by Stefan15BT

Again, Almunia would save a penalty (that he gave away). Then for the second  goal, Almunia lets a ball slip through his hand. At the near post. I’m noticing a common thread here I think. For the third, Almunia is chasing an attacker beyond his six yard box, leaving for a simple cut back for the opposition to put into the net.

Then, Manchester United at home. A 3-1 defeat and Almunia exposed. Again. The first goal, Almunia comes off his line against Nani and puts the ball  into his own net. The third goal Park shoots at Almunia near post and scores.

Finally in January 2011 Wenger went for Mark Schwarzer at £3,000,000. Kevin Whitcher wrote of the us trying to sign Mark Schwarzer:-

Attention was turned to Fulham’s veteran Mark Schwarzer, with a view of his moving onto the coaching staff after a season or two on first team duty, paving the way for Szczesny to replace him. Striving to strike a hard bargain, Arsenal left it until the 11th hour ….the West Londoner’s were no longer prepared to release the Australian international. So Almunia remained the number-one, the botched attempt hardly a vote of confidence.

With Wojciech Szczęsny making his league debut in December 2010 against Manchester United, Almunia was slowly eased out of the club.

Man Utd 1 – 0 Arsenal * Highlights & All Goals * by BosniaGunners

He would have one last hurrah at Barcelona in March 2011:-

FC Barcelona – Arsenal – 3-1 – 08.03.2011 by

Richard Evans wrote of Almunia:-

Szczesny had been forced to hand over to Almunia after tearing a finger ligament with no more than 15 minutes gone. Almunia, in fact, proceeded to play one of his best game for Arsenal which was an irony in itself considering how poorly he had been regarded in his native Spain.

By the end of 2012 Almunia finally departed to Watford. On his departure Almunia said:-

I went from being No 1 to No 3 almost overnight, but I tried not to think about it. Maybe I should have left one year earlier, but I had a contract that was too good to refuse.

Ironically, in 2008, Almunia had been given a lucrative four year contract extension. No wonder he did not want to leave.

So overall, looking back at Almunia 8 years (yes, 8 years), I just feel disappointment. He was an ok goalkeeper. But his confidence waver, he was awful at his near post and often caught in no man’s land. That Wenger kept him is a surprise. He could have signed Petr Cech, Shay Given, Mark Schwarzer or even Joe Hart. Unfortunately, the price of a quality keeper exceeded the budget that Wenger seemed to want to spend. So while United had Van der Saar, Chelsea had Petr Cech, City had Joe Hart, we were left With Manuel. The Spanish waiter as some called him:-

Although Almunia was poor and we won nothing with him in goal, I feel the blame should stand with Wenger. He really should have bought better than Almunia. He certainly had the money but he just refused to get one. Ironically, we never won a trophy with Almunia in goal. Coincidence?