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.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before