No team has a flawless goalkeeper, that’s a fact. But it’s obvious that there are a lot of keepers in the sport who will sway the outcome of a match to a positive when the team playing in front of him isn’t at it’s usual defensive best.
For several seasons, Arsenal has been a team often affected negatively by the performance of their man between the posts. Not since David Seaman’s reign has there been a consistent keeper who drew the line between points, too few or none.
Jens Lehman, for all his crazy behaviour, was a man who at least commanded his area and put the fear of an elbow or two into the hearts of a striker.
Few keepers of this cut come to mind, especially those who might still be a likely transfer target. That being said, there are still keepers out there that would fit into the fold at the Emirates. And some that leave a Gooner scratching his head as to why he wasn’t signed earlier when it was obvious that Jens’ time had been running out since 2007.
For a team like Arsenal who for the past few years have come out of the gates with something to prove and have ended the season with nothing, a major investment at the back is a good place to start the parts of the team that truly need a rebuild. Here’s a list that comes to mind, in no particular order. Or go ahead and order them yourself.
1. Shay Given
It was obvious, even the season before Newcastle was sent down, that their grip on the Republic of Ireland international was loose. Though he ultimately couldn’t prevent Newcastle from relegation, he was a major part in the team’s fourth place finish in the 2000-2001 season. As Newcastle’s slide plummeted out of control in 2008-09, at least in part due to the mess in ownership and management, would this not have been the perfect time to look for some choice meat on a corpse by making inquiries?
I’m not privy to what happens in the boardroom at Arsenal and I assume that Wenger would consider a player like this, but even the impossibly tight budget of that season for Arsenal would have had enough flex to sign the future of the team’s last defence. City ended up buying him for a rumoured £5.9 million. If this switch happens, which even though the possibility is still alive, seems unlikely at this point, City may be looking to make a profit for once.
It would be an interesting tale of the cash-barfing oil barons fleecing the tight-wad North Londoners. In that sense, it would be even more interesting if Given went to the Spurs. Maybe that deal would be the first step toward peace in the Middle East.
2. Mark Schwarzer
This is the one that’s most likely to happen. In fact, I bet right this second, the minutiae of the deal is being resolved. In Schwarzer, Arsenal would get a 38-year-old player with some steady hands, tons of experience in high-stakes competition and a guy who will be played by Christopher Eccleston when his life story is eventually serialized. And they will have him they will for approximately 1.8 years until his grandkids force him to retire.
I like Fulham and I’ve thought that Schwarzer was a big reason for their success in European competition but Wenger should have made his move a couple of seasons ago if he wanted him. At this stage he seems like a 6ft 5in bandage – a short-term fix.
Perhaps what we don’t see is the keeper that Vito Mannone is blossoming into and that a bandage is all that is necessary. It would be interesting to see what Schwarzer has left of his career with Arsenal. But I see him as another question mark among many in the goalkeeper pen at Arsenal.
3. Gigi Buffon
Now here’s a guy who you’d expect to kick a rushing striker in the chest and give him an elbow drop when he was writhing on the ground. If it was allowed. Gigi dominates his area fiercely. He was subject to early rumours of being an Arsenal target, but signed an extension with Juve until 2013. At that point, he’ll still only be 35.
But is England where a player spends his final years? Rarely. More likely he’d bask in the Spanish or perhaps Californian sun. In his advancing age, he is showing some wear and tear brought on by a career of aggressive play, but he could probably command a back line solidly.
I think he showed real heart by choosing to remain with Juve for their forced relegation following the game rigging controversy. Having to pull himself out of the World Cup due to sciatic nerve problems would be cause for worry.
4. Igor Akinfeev
I’ll admit, I know little about this guy. He kicks ass in the Russian League, something else I know little about. Except it’s cold there. I like the mental and physical test that this presents players in that league. Surely playing regularly in Siberia requires an additional store of fortitude and constitution that you won’t find in, say, a player from Mallorca or Nice.
I picture Russian footballers laughing at cold English rain and racing across unfrozen pitches at light speed. Wearing army boots and blazed on vodka. That’s inaccurate based on the Russian players in the Premier League that I’ve seen. They more resemble doll-faced ballerinas than shrapnel-scarred Spetsnaz.
But man, do I digress. Looking at Akinfeev’s history, he’s won the UEFA Cup and shown skill in the Champions League by going 362 minutes without letting in a goal.
He has his buddy Andrei at the club. By buddy, I mean someone who speaks his native tongue. From the manure heap of the football rumour mill, he seems to be interested in joining the club. As an added bonus, his Facebook page shows a man prone to wearing loud shirts and feeding Slovenian swans.