By Chris Harris
Manuel Almunia has proved himself to be a top-class goalkeeper. This season he can become a great one.
That's the view of Bob Wilson, and he should know. The former Gunner's safe hands helped the Club to its first League and Cup 'double' back in 1971 and he worked with a string of Arsenal keepers during a 28-year coaching stint.
Wilson believes Almunia has improved so much that he was unfortunate not to be part of Spain's triumphant Euro 2008 squad. And having shown that he is technically adept between the posts, Almunia can now add the leadership qualities which are the hallmark of a great keeper.
"Manuel's improvement was very, very significant last season and I am surprised he wasn't called up by Spain," Wilson told Arsenal.com.
"To progress each step of the way, you have got to crack your own club and win the battle with those around you. Manuel has proved that he can play, he has been accepted, and he should have been allowed to take the next step with Spain. They have Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina who are possibly ahead of Manuel at the moment but this season could be very significant for him.
"With goalkeepers it isn't just about keeping the ball out of the back of the net. It is about their presence in the goalmouth as it always is with great goalies from David Seaman to Peter Shilton to Pat Jennings to Gordon Banks. There is a presence they have which transmits itself to the players in front of them.
"Jens Lehmann had a bossiness about him, he was experienced and he talked to his team-mates, he organised them. Manuel has shown he is a good goalkeeper, a good shot-stopper and a fantastic kicker, now he can show he is a leader as well. Goalkeepers have to be leaders and I have high hopes for him."
Almunia has taken the No 1 jersey in the wake of Lehmann's summer departure but he won't be able to rest on his laurels in the battle for a first-team spot. Lukasz Fabianski will make sure of that and Wilson expects the Polish stopper to make his mark in the new campaign.
"What I love about Fabianski is that, like Jens, he is never scared to come for crosses and trusts his instincts," said Wilson. "There is nothing greater in the modern game, with the ball travelling so fast in the air, than a goalie who helps his defenders by coming out to punch or kill a move by catching a cross.
"That is the biggest challenge for any goalkeeper and the diamond in Fabianski's game is his courage in coming for the high cross. If he can add consistency, he will be a serious challenge to Manuel."Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 25 Jul 2008