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Monday, 18 March 2013

Arsenal: Valdes or Reina - Who would you rather sign?

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Sqf Steve Coulter general

Every great team has a great goalkeeper. Once upon a time Arsenal had one of the best in David Seaman. Old safe hands could be called upon time and time again to save the Gunners. But since he left a decade ago Arsenal have only really had one man who could get close to him, and even he was a proper headcase.

 Jens Lehmann was in goal for Arsenal's Invincibles season but the German had a serious screw lost. However, he remains head and shoulders above the rest that Arsene Wenger has put his faith in recently. Almunia, Fabianski and Manone were all given ample opportunities to claim the number one spot but have failed to make it their own.

Wojciech Szczesny looked like being the natural successor to Seaman, but the Arsenal jinx seems to have extended to the young Pole. After a promising start to his Emirates’ career Szcesny has suffered an alarming dip in form. The keeper's mistakes have damaged his side’s hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League. His most recent error led to Aston Villa's equaliser at The Emirates. Szczesny allowed Andreas Weinmann's tame shot to dribble under his body.

Fortunately Santi Cazorla's 85th minute winner sparred his goalkeeper’s blushes.

The errors have certainly left a mental scar. Szczensy was not included in the squad for the trips to Bayern Munich or Swansea City. With his keeper suffering a crisis of confidence Wenger may be forced to recruit a new custodian, with Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Barcelona's Victor Valdes reportedly in Wenger's sights.

Widely acknowledged as one of the Premier League's top goalkeepers, Reina certainly fits the bill for Arsenal. He has made nearly 300 appearances for the Reds. Blessed with razor sharp reflexes Reina has become a firm favourite with the Kop. He is also familiar with the hurly burly of England's top flight.

Wenger would not have to worry about Reina struggling to find his feet. The move may appeal to Reina. After eight years at Anfield the Spaniard could be tempted by a fresh challenge. On the flip side Reina is no spring chicken. The 31-year-old may be considered a stop gap in some quarters, but goalkeepers do have a longer shelf life. Both Peter Shilton and Pat Jennings were top notch performers in their forties. It should be added that the legendary duo played two decades ago.

Veteran keepers are less commonplace in the modern game. A loss of form may be a more pressing concern for Wenger. Time catches up with all of us and Pepe Reina is no exception. He certainly isn't the keeper has was five years ago.

Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes is another in the frame. In the majority of Barca games Valdes is reduced to the role of spectator, but when called on Valdes rarely disappoints. How often do we hear pundits say "the top keepers are the ones who can pull out great saves when they have hardly been tested."

Arsenal fans will remember Valdes's brilliance in 2006 Champions League Final. A series of fine stops broke Gunners hearts. Valdes is Schmeical-like when a forward bears down on goal. The goal appears to narrow as the Barcelona goalkeeper sprints off his line. Victor has been known to save the odd penalty too. His expertise from 12 yards will always come in handy. There can be no doubting Valdes's ability, but how would he cope with the physical aspect of the English game? There are not many Andy Caroll's or Peter Crouch's in La Liga.

Unlike Reina, Valdes has no experience of The Premier League. The Nou Camp stopper is a seasoned performer, he is also aged 31 so there is little to choose between the two Spaniards in terms of age.

On reflection I would plump for Pepe Reina. He is proven at this level and a move to The Emirates could reinvigorate his career. Asene Wenger could ignore the speculation and stick with Szczesny. Remember the Polish international is still only 22. Time is still on his side. I am not sure the same can be said of his manager.

Calling all Arsenal fans: Who would you like to see in between the sticks at the Emirates out of Reina or Valdes? Does Szczesny still have a role at the club? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.


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Colin Illingworth



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