x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Net result is not adding up for Arsenal as goalkeeping woes mount

Arsene Wenger is a talent-spotter par excellence, but the studious coach must have skipped the how-to-spot-the-good-goalkeeper classes.

Worst blindspot

There is a sizeable consensus of opinion which says Arsene Wenger is a talent-spotter par excellence.

The triumphs of the likes of Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas in the past support this viewpoint more than adequately.

However, the studious coach must have skipped the how-to-spot-the-good-goalkeeper classes back when he was cultivating his art.

The Arsenal manager would not know a good shot-stopper if Peter Schmeichel, Iker Casillas and Gordon Banks kidnapped him, tied him up, and took turns to shout "Pick me, Arsene! Pick me!"

Manuel Almunia, the latest player to wear the gloves for Arsenal and stand in front of the net for no apparent reason, did his best to extinguish his side's last vestige of hope for silverware on Saturday.

After a torrid fortnight when his side crashed out of three other competitions, Wenger really did not need his goalkeeper going for a walk and leaving his station unattended against West Bromwich Albion.

But then the urbane French coach probably did not see it anyway.

Best positioning

Perhaps Almunia should take some lessons from Andre Marriner over where the best place is to stand.

The referee was so close to Jonny Evans when the Manchester United defender made a gruesome tackle on Stuart Holden at Old Trafford that he was probably preparing to take evasive action himself.

Unlike Holden, the Bolton Wanderers midfielder who suffered a gashed knee, Marriner escaped unscathed. He was right on the spot to adjudicate that Evans deserved to be shown a red card, however.

Holden is unlikely to fancy rushing back to Manchester to play against either of the city's leading clubs. Last year, he had a leg broken while on international duty for the US when he was on the receiving end of a similarly robust challenge from Nigel de Jong, the Manchester City and Holland enforcer.

Worst assumption

If you do not want to spoil the surprise, look away now. The next time Jermain Defoe finds the net for Tottenham Hotspur, there is a better than average chance he will peel off his shirt to display a vest celebrating his feat of scoring 100 goals for the club.

An eagle-eyed cameraman showed the England striker to be somewhat presumptuous when he zoomed in on the number 100 showing through his white Spurs shirt at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

Maybe Defoe was distracted by the imminent milestone, as he passed up a clutch of chances, much to the delight of the opposing fans.

Defoe is still vilified by West Ham United supporters for the ham-fisted way he went about leaving his first professional club when they were relegated in 2004. If he had scored his Spurs century against them, it would have been beyond the pale for those with long memories.

Worst pedantry

Talking of undergarments, some of Fifa's regulations are just pants. Spurs were briefly denied the services of Gareth Bale, their outstanding winger, in the first half against West Ham after he was sent from the field by Mike Dean, the referee.

His crime?

Wearing the wrong colour cycle-shorts under his blue team shorts. According to Fifa rules governing basic player's equipment, "if undershorts are worn, they must be the same main colour as the shorts".

Bale was wearing white underneath. Crucially, Spurs' shorts are almost entirely blue, other than a small quadrant of white at the bottom of the right thigh.

And we wonder why they have not sorted out goal-line technology yet.

There are clearly far more important things for Fifa to be worrying about.

Best surrogate fathers

If Lucas, Liverpool's shot-shy midfielder, was planning to wait until he scored a goal himself before using his rocking-the-baby celebration, his new child would have probably already graduated from university, or at least be struggling with acne.

So Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez did him a favour, and shared in their colleague's familial joy when they netted the decisive goals for Liverpool against Sunderland yesterday.

Kuyt scored the first from the penalty spot, then raced to the corner to join in a synchronised baby-rock with the Brazilian midfielder, a la Bebeto, Mazinho and Romario at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

All the goodwill even crossed traditionally hostile borders. When Suarez, the Uruguayan forward, fired home a brilliant second, he also sought out his Brazilian teammate, and indulged a little more.