'Long way to go yet,' Almunia warns Arsenal

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The Independent Online

Manuel Almunia may have the best view in the house when it comes to watching Arsenal's own brand of beautiful football, but the Spanish goalkeeper is not taking his "privileged position" for granted.

The Gunners return to domestic action on Saturday looking to maintain their place at the top of the Premier League and extend a 27-match unbeaten run when struggling Wigan go to the Emirates Stadium.

Arsène Wenger's young side have earned the plaudits for the way they have adapted to the departure of key man Thierry Henry during the summer – and are now playing with a new-found freedom, confidence and panache.

Arsenal swept aside Reading 3-0 in their last outing with a superb display of quick, passing football, which left the Reading striker Dave Kitson hailing them as the "best on the planet".

Almunia, 30, has had the benefit of watching the Gunners' masterclass on a regular basis since capitalising on an injury to Jens Lehmann to establish himself as first choice between the posts.

However, while lauding his team-mates' efforts, the Spaniard knows the standard of his own game cannot drop if he is to retain the goalkeeper's jersey.

"It is unbelievable sometimes when we score goals and the defenders come back to take up their positions again – I say to Kolo [Touré], 'how on earth did we do that?'" Almunia declared. "I am in a privileged position to be in a team which is playing the best football in Europe at the moment."

Almunia, though, knows consistency in every department is key – as is focusing on the present. "I just know I have to play well in each game and do not like to look into the future too much," he told the December issue of Arsenal's official magazine.

"If I am thinking about January or February in the next game I could make a couple of mistakes and be back on the bench. Football is very cruel – and especially with goalkeepers. That is why it is such a difficult position to play."

Almunia believes he is now in the best form since arriving from Celta Vigo in August 2004. "Each year I am maturing," he reflected. "My head is now very calm, very relaxed, and I certainly keep my concentration better than in my first year, when there were many things on my mind with many changes."

The Spaniard added: "I like to compare myself to a wine which gets better with age. I hope that I can keep getting better when I am 31, 32. I do not know how long I will go on for. I will keep playing until I feel that my body does not respond to my mind."

Almunia has not been capped by Spain, and could eventually enter the reckoning for England if he opted for UK citizenship through residency. However, for now pulling on the Three Lions jersey is not a priority. Almunia quipped: "I always say that nobody can close doors to anything – now is black, tomorrow is white, especially in football. My own experience is a good example."

Arsenal head champions Manchester United at the top of the table only on goals scored. With little margin for error in the race for the title, Almunia knows maintaining their work ethic when things get tough will be the biggest test.

"We have to enjoy the moment, enjoy our form, but cannot forget that there is a long way to go," he said. "The spirit is very good and the new players have integrated very well indeed, but every team will have hard times though, and I hope that when that time comes everybody is strong.

"Now it is very easy to be happy, to shake hands with and hug your team-mates, but we have to make sure we react correctly in the harder moments."

Arsenal will be without suspended midfielder Cesc Fabregas for the visit of Wigan who are looking for their first win since August. Mathieu Flamini is a doubt after picking up an undisclosed injury while on international duty with France.

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