Arsenal duo teach Aragones lesson
Revenge does not feature in the pre-match motivational team briefings that Arsenal have been using this season, but for two of their players there was the quiet satisfaction of, well, getting one over Luis Aragones in the embarrassing demolition of Fenerbahce and their proud home record.
While Cesc Fabregas never quite convinced Aragones that he was worthy of a regular starting place for Spain – even though he was eventually crucial to their Euro 2008 triumph – Manuel Almunia never even registered on the radar to play for his country and, post-match, gave the clearest indication yet that he would like to eventually be considered by England.
Aragones has certainly been on the radar for Arsenal ever since his racist remarks about Thierry Henry but now he will also be associated as the coach who was in charge when Fenerbahce conceded five times and lost for the first time in 16 European ties at home. That will constitute some kind of revenge and has also left Aragones facing the sack.
For Almunia, Arsenal's stand-in captain, one of the reasons why Fabregas has not been key for his country – he has not been first-choice for Aragones's successor Vicente del Bosque either – is because he does not play there. "Every coach has his opinion and sometimes it's easier to put players in the first XI who are playing in their own country," Almunia said. "Maybe the Spanish coach does not see English games often enough to see how Cesc is playing. They have scouts everywhere but the Spanish policy seems to be..." Almunia's response tailed off – he sensed he was heading into choppy waters – but the sentence was not difficult to complete.
"I would compare Cesc to Xavi, maybe, a great Spanish player," Almunia added. "That's why maybe Cesc has difficulties being chosen by Spain. In Arsenal he is the biggest star, the reference. Spain has many references. Xavi, Iniesta, Senna. They have many good players." Fabregas is still, only, 21 so he has hardly been neglected by his country. Almunia is 10 years older and, after a career which has taken him from Osasuna's B team to clubs such as Cartagonova, Sabadell, Celta Vigo Eibar, Recreativo Huelva and Albacete before signing for Arsenal as Jens Lehmann's under-study four years ago, his time has come. But with Iker Casillas and Jose Reina among those in front of Almunia for Spain and also – crucially – younger than him the Arsenal goalkeeper's best chance of international recognition may be to acquire a British passport.
He will, through permanent residency, be eligible to apply for one next year, having signed for Arsenal in July 2004, and although it is supposed to take a year after that for a passport to be issued it can, in theory, be fast-tracked. Age would be no bar, but Fabio Capello has, privately at least, been lukewarm to the idea of acquiring players by such means for his squad.
Almunia was in superb form against Fenerbahce and, indeed, despite Arsenal's emphatic attacking performance was a candidate for man of the match given the number of times he repelled the Turkish and, in particular, their Spanish striker Daniel Guiza – a former team-mate of Almunia's at Recreativo. The victory means that Arsenal have to secure just one more win to ensure they will progress from Group G.