Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal legend Jennings backs Almunia to shine in goal

By Stuart McKinley

A man who wore the Arsenal number one shirt for eight seasons insists that Arsene Wenger’s faith in current goalkeeper Manuel Almunia is not misplaced.

The Spaniard has been first choice at the Emirates Stadium since Jens Lehmann’s departure two seasons ago, but he has never been commanding in that position.

Almunia’s Gunners career has been error strewn and regularly it seems that the defence has little confidence in the man behind him.

The fact that he is nowhere near earning an international cap for his native country tells a tale, although Liverpool’s Pepe Reina has had to be content with playing the back-up role to World Cup winning captain Iker Casillas despite being regarded as one of the Premier League’s top stoppers.

Jennings had no such worries during his career. He was first choice in the Northern Ireland goal for more than two decades and the fact that he played over 1,000 games at club level owed much to a consistently high level of performance.

With Cesc Fabregas now staying in north-London much will be expected of Arsenal in the new season after falling just short of a serious challenge to Chelsea in last season’s title race.

And starting with tomorrow’s opening game away to Liverpool, Almunia will have to prove his doubters wrong if Wenger’s men are to be crowned champions come next May.

“I don’t think anything has changed at Arsenal regarding their goalkeeping situation. I think Manuel Almunia is a good goalkeeper and any mistakes that he has made have been magnified,” said Jennings, who was in Dublin as ESPN launched their Premier League coverage for the new campaign.

“You look at Petr Cech. He’s regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in the league and he made mistakes last season.

“When you are successful and win things the mistakes are forgotten about. If you aren’t successful then you’re vilified.

“You only have to look at Robert Green in the World Cup, he’s been ostracised and I know what it feels like, but that’s what happens when you’re a goalkeeper.

“I wouldn’t be worried about Almunia. It’s what’s behind him that I’m not sure about. Luckasz Fabianski has made mistakes when he’s been in and it will be hard for him if he has to come back into the first-team.

“I know he’s well thought of at Arsenal though and if he does come back in he’ll have to cut out the errors if he’d going to have a chance long-term.”

The list of goalkeepers that Wenger has been linked with continues to grow on a daily basis — although he has yet to dip into the transfer market.

Two of them men Wenger is believed to be interested in signing will be battling it out to be first choice in Manchester City’s multi-million team when the season kicks-off today.

Whoever gets the nod from Roberto Mancini, between Joe Hart and Shay Given, it will plunge the other into a difficult decision.

“Joe Hart is going to have a massive problem if he stays at Manchester City. He’s got Shay Given in his way, he’s been one of the best around for years and it will be hard to displace him,” said Jennings.

“I don’t see Manchester City letting him go out on-loan again because after spending the money they have there is no point in not having a good quality back-up goalkeeper.

“If he’s going to be England’s number one though he’ll need to be playing week in, week out to keep the place.

“If he’s playing and playing as well as he did at Birmingham City last season then Fabio Capello won’t have anything to worry about.”

As far as walking off with the coveted crown at the end of the season is concerned, Jennings sees it as a two-horse race.

“I was at Wembley on Sunday and I think it will be either Chelsea or Manchester United who will win the league,” said Jennings.

“There might be a little bit of a World Cup hangover for some players, particularly the England ones. John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney all got booed and I don’t know if that’s going to be a pattern that’s going to continue when the season starts.

“It didn’t bother Wayne Rooney though. He was outstanding and he won’t be affected by anything like that. The others were steady enough.

“Manchester City will want to push for the top four after spending a lot of money and this season will tell a tale as far as they are concerned.”

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