I had a plan tonight. I got home from work, all ready to put my thoughts regarding our new captain down on e-paper when I saw the Portsmouth-AC Milan game on TV. Once I realised that Flamini was playing in the centre of Milan’s midfield, my mind turned to what might have been for our Matty.
He started well, got stuck in and was directing the ageing Milan grandads around the pitch like, dare I say it, a captain! I started to wonder whether he might have been a candidate for captain had he stayed?
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He looks the part, he shows the right attitude and he’s very mobile and can play in many positions. In my personal opinion, had he stayed in London in the summer, he could well have been captain of Arsenal by now. But it wasn’t to be. He’s ended up as a Milan substitute, reduced to scampering around in the Portsmouth mud after Papa Bouba Diop in the UEFA cup on a Thursday night in November, desperately trying to do the work that the 37 year olds around him haven’t got the legs for any more. What a waste.
I don’t necessarily think that Cesc is the wrong choice for captain. In fact, given the paucity of captain material at the club at the moment, he’s probably the best choice there is. I just wonder whether one so young (and off form at the moment!) can carry the enormous weight of expectation of such a position and, given that he is such a quiet man on and off the pitch, whether any sort of failure in this role might lead to his ultimate departure under a cloud.
There’s no doubt that he’s one of the best players we’ve seen at Arsenal since we moved to the new stadium and I’d like us to keep him. But is he really the kind of inspiring, talismanic captain figure we need to turn things round at the moment? I’m not sure.
OK, so Tuesday night was his first game with the armband but our performance against Kiev summed up what we’ve been about for most of the last 3 years and particularly this season. From the very start, the entire team were on their heels, sluggishly lumbering around the field and waiting for ‘someone else’ to make a run or move into space. Of course ‘someone else’ hardly ever did and so we just carried on until the entire crowd were bored into submission. Bendtner got the winner, and thank the lord for that as I have a feeling we might have struggled in Porto if we’d needed a point.
But the real hero for me on Tuesday night was Manuel Almunia. This man has taken an awful lot of stick since he joined Arsenal. “He’s not world class” is the constant mantra I hear around N5 and that might not be that far wrong. But this guy has been one of the few solid, dependable members of our team in the last 12 months or so and I for one think he deserves some respect.
With 12 minutes to go on Tuesday, Kiev’s striker broke through our leaky defence and was one-on-one with our keeper. Manuel stood up, spread himself and somehow managed to charge down and block Milevskiy’s shot and prevent him from scoring. Had that shot gone in, I don’t think we would have come back from it and we would be looking at needing to win in Portugal to qualify for the knockout stages.
With things seemingly going so wrong for us at the moment, there aren’t many heroes around but Manuel Almunia was precisely that on Tuesday and deserves some admiration for the way in which he has regularly done his bit for the team since he replaced Mad Jens.
I appreciate that, now I’ve said this out loud, he’ll go and make one hell of a cock-up on Sunday but he can hardly be blamed for the terrifying level of control that I have over the fickle hand of fate, surely?
Well done and thank you, Manuel.