Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gunners Given boost

Congratulations to Arsenal on making the Champions' League final.

No, not simply a gesture of support for a British football team (albeit one which last night featured a solitary Brit), but a simultaneous expression of relief as a Newcastle fan. Let me explain.

I've never rated Jens Lehmann very highly at all, but this season he's performed admirably, sufficiently so to tempt me into eating my words. Last night's 88th minute penalty save surely sealed his position as the Gunners' number one for some time to come.

All of which means that, even though he's out of contract in the summer, our chances of hanging on to Shay Given are looking much more healthy. A couple of seasons ago, both Arsenal and Man Utd seemed to me to be crying out for top quality 'keepers. At Old Trafford, Taggart moved to remedy the situation by bringing in Edwin van der Saar from Fulham, but Wenger did nothing - the suspicion being he was waiting to pounce for Given.

Our level-headed Irish custodian has once again been at his frequently incredible best this season, preserving leads and salvaging points single-handedly. What with Petr Cech not living up to last season's form, age catching up a bit with Brad Friedel and Paul Robinson playing behind a more solid defence and therefore being called into action less frequently, it wouldn't be an overstatement to say he's been the best 'keeper in the Premiership this season, as acknowledged by his appearance between the sticks in the Premiership Team Of The Year.

It wasn't long ago that our season looked like being a disaster, but now that a very encouraging run of results has turned things around, with Europe somewhat bizarrely in our sights, Given might well be tempted to sign a new deal - especially if there are no other major British suitors.

I just hope I haven't spoken too soon - or dismissed too lightly the idea that he might like to try his luck on the continent. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Given owes us nothing, and would be perfectly entitled to leave in search of success and a bigger pay packet (his current salary being dwarfed by others at the club, despite his inestimably greater contribution to the team).

But if we can keep hold of him it'll be a major coup - and the chances of that happening look to be going from slim to good.


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