I think what Almunia has shown with his patchy form over the last two years is that he is good enough to be a back-up keeper but he has been promoted above his station. Whether he would want to go back to bench-warming is something I can only speculate about. But what I can declare unequivocally, is that Manuel Almunia should not be Arsenal no.1 next season.
And to an extent, I stand by that. I think Arsene should have spent some of the Adebayor/Toure money and brought in a top goalkeeper. But, to be honest (and I know this is easy to say now) I never expected him to do so.
Having been at the club for 15 years, Wenger has signed a keeper to be no.1 just once. Seaman played in goal for 8 years and then Lehmann was brought in. Almunia was signed merely as back-up, and I think it is fair to say he has been promoted above his station. The form he showed circa 2008 suggested he could cope with it. The way he played in spring 2010 suggested he wasn't good enough. But with Arsene's history of signing keepers, I didn't expect a big, new signing.
Possibly Mark Schwarzer. But not a huge signing. And Schwarzer would have been a signing just for the sake of change. He is not a better goalkeeper than Almunia. He's a solid pair of hands. Almunia kept us in the Champions League semi-final back in 2009 with some saves which Schwarzer simply couldn't make.
So the reality is, that while Schwarzer could have been signed for an exorbitant fee, I doubt it would have helped Arsenal. Undoubtedly it's possible to argue that the speculation over the goalkeepers has undermined Almunia. But I would posit that his confidence should be reinforced by the fact that after 3 months of looking, Arsene couldn't find anyone better to replace him with.
Add to this, that Almunia had made it pretty clear that he wasn't prepared to stay and play second fiddle to a new goalkeeper. And the one name who we ever close to signing was Mark Schwarzer - a 37-year-old who is clearly injury-prone. Almunia has supposedly suffered from dreadful chest infections, but I'd much rather have his fitness being the stumbling-block to Fabianski playing, than Schwarzer's dodgy back.
And in reality, while I would have preferred a top keeper, how many were available and are actually good. Buffon's injured for months. Hugo Lloris is like Miguel Veloso - a player for the FM generation but generally poor whenever I've seen him play. Certainly not worth the astronomical fee Lyon would have demanded.
So, frankly, if it's a top goalkeeper we're after it's a choice between Casillas, Stekelenburg, Cech or Reina. Cech and Casillas would have no motivation to come to Arsenal, Liverpool would not have sold Reina and maybe Wenger doesn't rate Stekelenburg. And when everybody knows you're looking for a goalkeeper, it makes it much harder to buy. Old suppply and demand economics, innit.
Although I'd prefer one of those four in goal, I recognise that would have been hard to make happen. Arsenal not paying a bit extra for Schwarzer is not like not paying a bit extra for Xabi Alonso - Schwarzer has no resale value. And, I genuinely wouldn't swap Almunia for Schwazer. For all the doom-mongers out there, time will tell whether this turns out to be a dreadful decision - there are no certainties in football.
And I'd also point out that this is the first time in many a year that Arsenal have had four good centre-backs and Chamakh has all the hallmarks of a great signing. It really has not been a bad transfer window; quite the opposite in fact.
It's very easy to go and throw a tantrum that Arsenal didn't sign a goalkeeper and I am a little disappointed. But anyone who thinks that Arsenal's chances of winning the League went up in smoke because we didn't sign Mark Schwarzer is wrong. The club may not win the League, in fact I think we probably won't because Almunia is probably not good enough and that is disappointing. But Schwarzer was not the solution and when one considers, how difficult it is to sign a new goalkeeper, it doesn't help to heap derision on Arsene.
Rather, let's get behind the team, back Almunia to the hilt, and see whether this could be our year.
Keep the faith,