The majority of Arsenal supporters in the U.S. are probably familiar with ESPN’s Chris Berman, the former Sportscenter studio host who would come up with catchy nicknames for some of the athletes featured in highlight reels on ESPN’s nightly broadcasts.
His amusing monikers usually involved some funny wordplay incorporating a player’s name, and I can recall some examples from years past that included NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler “On The Roof,” and baseball players Nomar “Mr. Nice Guy” Carciaparra and Julio “Take Me On A Sea” Cruz.
Well, now that ESPN has begun airing Premier League matches in the States and some highlights of game action from England and Europe have begun to creep into Sportscenter broadcasts, I’ve got the next great nickname for Mr. Berman, based on the strong performance by Arsenal’s fill-in keeper during the Premiership match against Fulham on Saturday.
How about … Vito Mannone Mission?
Adding that one word after the correct pronounciation of the Italian goalkeeper’s name certainly describes the incredible and spirited effort put forth by the Gunners’ third-string keeper, which earned him “Man of the Match” honors in the 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage yesterday.
Whether Mannone’s ojective was to disprove some critics who questioned his presence between the posts for big matches, or to show manager Arsene Wenger that he has the ability to compete for first-team status, the young keeper played brilliantly on the road Saturday to earn his second consecutive clean sheet in the league.
A moment of first-class skill from Robin van Persie off a fine pass from Cesc Fabregas early in the second half provided the lone goal that separated the two London sides on the evening. But the true hero for Arsenal was Mannone, who did play like a “man on a mission” and kept Fulham scoreless with a number of great saves on various efforts from Bobby Zamora, Zoltan Gera, Clint Dempsey and Andy Johnson.
In grading Mannone’s display during his post-match comments, Wenger told reporters: “I believe we will give him 10 out of 10 because everything he did was right. For a goalkeeper that is most important. He stopped everything he had to stop, didn’t make any wrong decisions and overall he has shown he has the potential to be a very good goalkeeper.”
While the 21-year-old Italian began the season as the third option in goal for Wenger, his current form and injuries to Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia will keep him top choice for the time being. “Until the next game he is No 1. In this job, you have to go from game to game,” explained Wenger. “He has played a fantastic game today and the consistency is the first sign of quality.
“He is a quiet boy but he has outstanding physical qualities and fantastic reflexes. You saw that today. He kept us in the game in some unbelievable situations,” said the French manager. “You say that a keeper sometimes look unbeatable. Today he looked like he could make the save needed every time.”
Mannone’s heroic efforts were needed on a day when Arsenal’s usual flowing passing game sputtered a bit against a determined Fulham side that had just as many chances on goal. And while the match again exposed some weaknesses of Wenger’s young side, it also perhaps answered a few critics who have argued that this Gunners team can not grind out results when not at their best.
Like the dramatic, comeback win at Standard Liege in its opening Champions League group encounter two weeks ago, Arsenal again exhibited the ability to survive a scrappy affair and earn all three points from a less-than-impressive performance.
“It is good for us to know that you can win that way. People always want us to play well and dominate, but when we do not win they are not happy too. Today I am happy,” stated Wenger when asked for this thoughts on “winning ugly.”
“We had a difficult first half and we only found our game in the second. But I give a lot of credit to Fulham they played very well,” continued the manager in his postgame interview. “You could not see one player who did not tackle and fight. They tried everything. We would not have gone away with three points if we had not shown attitude and spirit.”