Arsene Wenger quiet over Arsenal goalkeeper selection
Arsene Wenger revealed Manuel Almunia was left hurt by his blunder in Arsenal's last Barclays Premier League outing at West Brom - but refused to confirm whether he would now axe the Spanish goalkeeper in favour of veteran Jens Lehmann.
Almunia, 33, was thrust back into the first team following a finger injury to Wojciech Szczesny in the Nou Camp, which saw the young Pole join Lukasz Fabianski on the sidelines and would lead to Lehmann answering Wenger's SOS to come out of retirement at 41.
However, despite performing well in what turned out to be a 3-1 defeat against Barcelona which ended Arsenal's Champions League ambitions for another season, Almunia then left himself open to criticism after a terrible mix-up with stand-in centre-back Sebastien Squillaci at The Hawthorns which allowed the relegation-battlers to take a 2-0 lead.
While the Gunners eventually fought back to salvage a draw, it has again put focus on who will be between the posts when domestic action resumes against Blackburn at Emirates Stadium on April 2.
Arsenal now trail Manchester United by five points, albeit with a match in hand ahead of their May 1 showdown, and as such would be champions if they win all of the remaining nine fixtures.
However, Wenger knows there can no longer be any margin for error as he prepares to take the tough decisions necessary to ensure a season which promised so much does not again fail to deliver.
"What can you say? The player knows it was the wrong decision," Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.
"In big games, it hurts because that was a massive game for us and it hurts him of course."
On whether he would now make a change, Wenger stressed: "I do not want to make a public debate of that.
"I believe for every game you consider three days before the game who will play in the next match."
Lehmann and Almunia were among a handful of senior players still at London Colney during the international break.
Wenger hopes captain Cesc Fabregas, midfielder Alex Song and England forward Theo Walcott will all have recovered full match fitness over the fortnight.
Arsenal will be well represented when England take on Wales in Cardiff tomorrow, with Jack Wilshere expected to be in involved as Aaron Ramsey leads his country out for the first time.
Striker Nicklas Bendtner looks set to feature for Denmark against Norway having suffered a scare earlier in the week when he needed an ice pack on his ankle.
Wenger believes a change of scene could do his battle-weary squad the world of good after a testing spell which saw them lose the Carling Cup final, go out of Europe and then the FA Cup at Old Trafford.
"After such a demanding and stressful three weeks we had, it is not so bad the players focus on something different for a while and come back refreshed," he said.
Both Szczesny and defender Johan Djourou, whose shoulder injury did not need reconstructive surgery, should play again before the end of the season - perhaps even in time for the United game in five weeks.
However, centre-back Thomas Vermaelen will not recover from a niggling Achilles problem to make a contribution.
It has been a frustrating season on the sidelines for the Belgian, who last played for Arsenal on August 28 and had an operation on a separate tendon problem in January.
"I can understand my manager when he says that my season is over: I have been out for seven months and I must fulfil a complete 'pre-season', so it's logical that he won't take risks," Vermaelen told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
"Time is ticking away and the season finishes in two months.
"I must first get fit again, then gain rhythm, so I've still a long way to go.
"I can kick a ball as hard as possible, but that's not my problem. I need to run without pain."
Vermaelen added: "I always thought I would be out for six weeks, that was what I was told.
"So I never could anticipate this long absence. Maybe I would have preferred that I knew from the start."
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