John Lukic: Wenger should have signed Reina, Valdes, or Julio Cesar
Published 23:00 04/09/10 By Steve Stammers
Arsenal will pay a heavy price for failing to recruit a top-class goalie this summer.
The class of 2010 may be developing nicely, with the likes of Theo Walcott grabbing centre stage while Cesc Fabregas gradually returns from World Cup duty.
But after publicly announcing that the recruitment of an experienced, top-flight goalkeeper was a priority, manager Arsene Wenger has failed to get his man.
George Graham was the Gunners boss who broke the British transfer record for a goalie when signing David Seaman for £1.3million in 1990.
Seaman spent 13 years at Arsenal, a cornerstone of the club’s pursuit of honours, and of the resolute defence Wenger inherited in 1996.
Graham’s policy was to pay for the best and then let him get on with the job.
Wenger spent this summer courting Fulham veteran Mark Schwarzer – but still no deal got done.
Graham said: “Arsene has the money, so why not go and spend £10m or £12m on a real top-quality keeper? I don’t really understand why he has not done that.
“I mean, Schwarzer is 37 and that seems to go against Arsene’s policy of recruiting players of that age.”
Graham signed Seaman to replace John Lukic, who had been in goal during their epic 1988-89 title-winning campaign.
Lukic moved to Leeds and became the only goalie to win titles with two different clubs.
Lukic said: “There’s an old saying that you don’t win the championship with a bad goalie. I’m not saying Manuel Almunia is bad – but the really top keepers do win games for you.
“The game fans won’t remember is the home match where the opposition got through once and the goalie made a critical save. That save affects the balance of the game, and could win the three points that make you champions.
“I joined Arsenal in 1983 and left in 1990 when David arrived. So between us we spent around 20 years as the Arsenal goalie. How many keepers have been used since David moved on in 2003?.”
Lukic went on: “The pursuit of a veteran like Schwarzer suggests that Arsene does still believe his long-term goalie will emerge from inside the club.
“He’s looking for a short-term fix, with Lukasz Fabianski or Wojciech Szczesny eventually taking over.
“You have to be absolutely convinced that the youngster is good enough to do that.
“Given that Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for five years do you really want to be working on a development programme?
“Personally, I’d look for a goalie in his late twenties with a proven track record and put him straight into the team.
“Pepe Reina at Liverpool is an interesting one. The dust hasn’t settled at Anfield yet and he would be a great capture for Arsenal. He’s in the right age group, knows the Premier League, and has a wealth of experience.
“I’d also look at Inter Milan’s Julio Cesar and Victor Valdes at Barcelona.
“Getting either of them may be a tall order, but you have to check out any potential availability and the status of their contracts.
“The key is for Arsenal to find the best man, get him in their team and nail the position down for years.”
In the meantime, after weeks of reading that he had to be replaced, Almunia must hold the fort.
Graham pointed out: “Almunia is still there and he will want to show what he can do. This will now be a big test for him. It’s also an opportunity to show real professionalism.
Lukic concluded: “Almunia has to think that he’s virtually self-employed now.
“He’s in that goal and if Arsenal don’t want him he needs to clinch the best move he possibly can for himself.
“You do that by playing really well – not feeling sorry about your self.”