Almunia: 'Pressure left us feeling lost on big night at Old Trafford'

Goalkeeper admits Arsenal's young squad failed to rise to the occasion against United

Manuel Almunia rose to the occasion of Wednesday night's Champions League semi-final at Manchester United as befits a man with a taste for Pamplona's notorious San Fermin bull run festival.

As a teenager Almunia regularly used to join the inebriated thrill-seekers running with the animals through the streets of his home town, so he was never likely to be fazed by the mere matter of a last-four contest with the reigning European Champions at Old Trafford.

Almunia's nerveless performance kept the score down to just 1-0, despite United's almost total dominance. Sadly for the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, the imposing goalkeeper's young team-mates failed to come close to matching his calm composure in the fevered atmosphere.

The 31-year-old Spaniard was the oldest player in the Arsenal starting XI on Wednesday, when the average age of their outfield players was 23.4. Almunia admitted the enormity of the game got to some of the side's inexperienced members, who were "lost" for the opening quarter of the match.

Almunia said: "We were surprised at how they played but some of our players were maybe lost at the beginning. That's normal. It's a big competition, it's a big semi-final and you expect a lot of pressure on the players. I don't know how every player felt inside but it's a big pressure on everybody but I still think we should have the experience to face these sort of games.

"I think everybody was looking forward to this game for such a long time," he added, "and then you put everything into the game on the pitch and sometimes your head doesn't respond enough to your desire."

Almunia's honesty in accepting that Wenger's side froze at Old Trafford is commendable but is not likely to be well received within the Arsenal dressing room. For the last few months Wenger has repeated the mantra that his team have the mental strength to compete at this elevated level.

The Arsenal manager was at it again in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's defeat, inviting a journalist who raised the question of the team's character to come to the press conference after next Tuesday's return leg at the Emirates Stadium by which time, Wenger insisted, all doubts will have been erased.

Almunia said Arsenal will lose if they allow their nerves to get the better of them again. "Maybe Manchester United are stronger than us but in terms of desire nobody can beat us. That's what we have to do at the Emirates," he said.

"We have to show our desire to win because this is the only trophy that we have left this season. We will see if our desire is enough on Tuesday, but if you don't play in these sort of games then you are lost."

Dressing-room honesty has been a theme of Arsenal's season. William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy following his accusations in November that his team-mates lacked bravery. Almunia risks picking over old wounds with his candid assessment of the team's lack of bottle.

Wenger made Cesc Fabregas captain in Gallas's place, and the Spaniard was one of the few Arsenal players not to be overwhelmed at Old Trafford. In fact, afterwards he even claimed the visitors had been the better side, despite the overwhelming evidence, although he did admit the Gunners need to work on their finishing.

"They had the best chances, that's true, but as soon as we played the ball, we were the better team," Fabregas said. "We need to be more clinical in front of goal, that's for sure. There were moments in the game where we passed the ball a lot and we combined very well but we are not clinical enough in front of goal. That's what we definitely have to improve because now we know for sure that we have to score.

"I think United are an amazing side, they have a lot of experienced players, they will know how to do their game. We have to focus on our game and we need to go to attack and we are capable of that. It's up to us now to do well at the Emirates and beat them."

Fabregas also protested his innocence after being charged with improper conduct by the Football Association over accusations he spat at Hull's assistant manager, Brian Horton. "My mind and my heart will be relaxed because I have not done anything wrong," he said. "Well, I came to the pitch, then eight players were on the pitch as well so, then everyone should be suspended for that."

23.4 years

Average age of Arsenal's outfield players against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home