Arsenal is two weeks into preseason training, and the goalkeeping situation is as unresolved as it was a little over a month ago, when I wrote this. Links to Fulham's Mark Schwarzer still ebb and flow (mostly flow) from the English press. The manager suggests that of the four keepers the club has taken to Austria, none is currently considered the club's number 1, a comment many have taken to mean that he is actively trying to buy still, but one that may also mean that he is waiting to see how things shake out during training. There are also growing rumbles that Sol Campbell will remain at Arsenal, which, while he will not start, cannot hurt at all.
Arsenal bloggers are understandably upset about the prospect of starting the season with Almunia, Schwarzer, or Fabianski as the number one. But emotion surely cannot rule the argument, either; anger, justified as it is, at goalkeeping howlers last year is no basis upon which to evaluate the club's options, is it?
Indeed, there are some statistics that indicate that Arsenal's keepers were well below average, save percentage being one of them, as twitter user Orbinho notes. However, others (OleGunner, ArsenalColumn) were quick to point out the complexities that that particular stat papers over (and again, I cannot help but clamor for an even 25% decent football statistics website--there simply isn't one, although FIFA's work during the world cup was a giant leap in the right direction). Setting all that to one side, it is clear that Arsenal's keepers are not the best in the world, it is clear that part of this has to do with the organization of the defensive players, it is clear that that organization has partly to do with the quality and organizational abilities of the keeper, and it is clear that Arsenal's midfield pressing decreased during the course of the season. It is less clear, but definitely possible, that the defense was disorganized and shoddy at times precisely because of a lack of confidence in their keeper, but that, of course, is much harder to evaluate.
But this is old news. Simply put, I am not entirely convinced, as some are, that buying a "top-class" goalkeeper instantly transforms Arsenal into a title-winner, because I am not convinced that there is a way to measure one goalkeeper against another on level terms. This is not baseball.
It is easier, in a way, to list equally unquantifiable things that will potentially improve Arsenal's defensive record this season: greater squad morale/harmony; a reduction in injuries; an increase in overall team pressing and defensive play; renewed confidence on the part of our defensive core; another year of experience under the belt for players such as Song, Sagna, Vermaelen, and Clichy; players such as Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs, Eastmond, and perhaps even Frimpong being eager to prove themselves.
Granted, these things are unknowable, but until someone can point to a robust, nuanced, multi-factorial system of quantifiably evaluating goalkeepers in the context of their teams, we all have to rely on "knowing it when we see it". Which is fair enough, but maybe not a solid foundation to make a case for a Schwarzer, Given, or Lloris...