Manuel Almunia Rivero (born 19 May 1977) joined Arsenal on 14 July 2004 as a deputy for Jens Lehmann and made his league debut in December that year.
In his first season he played in the FA Cup 5th round game and saved two penalties against Sheffield United to take Arsenal through and on to the Cup Final (he was an unused sub in the final). He also played in the 2006 Champions League final after Lehmann was sent off, and in the League Cup final the following season.
Comments by both goalkeepers showed that each had little regard for the other (and that’s putting it mildly), with Lehmann saying he was better than Almunia, Almunia saying that Mannone was better than Lehmann.
Almunia replaced Lehmann when the latter went to Stuttgart at the start of the 2007/8 season signing a four year contract in 2008. However he never became a favourite of the fans and as with players such as Ian Wright before him a small group of fans turned against him.
After stories circulating that he might take UK nationality (to which he was entitled through residence) stories then circulated that he would be sold.
For 2010/11 Almunia started as first choice keeper, but when he lost his place through injury he found it hard to get back, and remained on the bench apart from for FA Cup games. But in March 2011 he was voted man of the match on Arsenal’s web site after coming on as substitute for Szczęsny.
Bizarrely Arsenal then suffered a period with all three first team keepers other than Almunia were injured and Almunia became first choice keeper with (even more oddly) Lehmann (brought back on emergency loan) on the bench. Almunia then injured his knee in the warm up to a match in April 2011 and Lehmann took over for the game.
By 2011/12 Almunia’s time has gone with Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański becoming the first choice keepers, and was further reduced in Arsenal’s order when Damian Martinez, then 19, was named on the bench for an FA Cup match. In September 2011 Almunia went on loan to West Ham.
Almunia, it was announced, would be released on 30 June 2012. He then signed for Watford, initially for a year, but has since signed an extension to his contract.
Overall he appeared 175 times for Arsenal’s first team across seven seasons.
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