Arsenal Comment: Manuel Almunia goes from scapegoat to title saviour in one fell swoop

Goalkeeper comes to the rescue, while Song passes centre-half audition
By Matthew Weiner | Arsenal Correspondent
Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia has always been picked out as the weak link in the team but his superhuman penalty save against West Ham has rescued his reputation as well as the Gunners’ title bid.

Brian Clough famously said that a great goalkeeper is worth 12 points a season. Almunia’s denial of Diamanti from 12 yards could be worth all of those at once.

The spot kick saviour preserved Arsenal’s clean sheet and in doing so sent the Gunners to the top of the league. Arsene Wenger’s side has now stretched their winning run to an incredible six games in a row.

The sending off of Thomas Vermalen was soft. Yes, there was contact but if that was always an offense then you would see 10 penalties in every game.

Had the game gone to 1-1, it would have been very hard for Arsenal to get themselves back on top with just 10 men. And if Arsenal had dropped two points against West Ham, this side’s incredible momentum would also have been lost.

One gets the feeling that if Arsenal are to win the Premier League title, they really must win every single one of their remaining games. With Manchester United, Chelsea and the Gunners all so close, every point is crucial.

Almunia’s dramatic dive to keep out Diamanti’s well-taken penalty not only keeps Arsenal in the race but pumps up the pressure on their rivals who still have to play each other.

Sure, the Spaniard came off his line. But show me a goalkeeper in the Premier League that doesn’t. In fact, saving a penalty is such a tough call that such a rule shouldn’t even be an issue.

Whatever the result is of that game between Chelsea and Manchester United, one thing’s for certain now: it’s going to be good news for the Gunners. But the north London side must now maintain their form against Birmingham next week.

The loss of Vermaelen for three games as a result of his sending off this evening will be hard felt. Sol Campbell has come in and done an excellent job in the absence of William Gallas but he looks vulnerable at times. Arsenal’s recent success and the increasing numbers of clean sheets has been down to these two hard men building a successful partnership.

Campbell has been dominant in the air for Arsenal but Vermaelen is also no slouch with his head. The Belgian also could be relied to tidy up his at times clumsy team-mate’s mistakes thanks to his quick feet and excellent reading of the game.

Arsenal fans were relieved to see that Wenger did not turn to Mikael Silvestre when a replacement was required, instead turning to the excellent Alex Song.
The pairing of Silvestre and Campbell is not the solution if the Gunners are to win the next three games until the Belgian returns.

The hugely improved Song must stand-in for Vermaelen while the two veterans are rotated. Wenger must just hope that that decision does not weaken his midfield too much. No one in the squad can protect the back four like the Cameroon man can.

But all that worry can wait because thanks to Almunia’s moment of redemption, Arsenal are sitting top of the league - and now it’s up to their rivals to catch them.

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