Arsene Wenger believes Manuel Almunia could be England's goalkeeper at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The Spanish-born keeper, who will soon be eligible for England under residency rules, was outstanding in the Gunners' 1-0 UEFA Champions League semi-final defeat to Manchester United in midweek.
And Wenger believes his faith in the often-criticised 31 year old has been vindicated by a display that has ensured Arsenal still have a chance of some silverware this season. "I believe he is not only good enough, but he is the best," Wenger said of the possibility of Almunia declaring his availability for England. "It is down to what you expect morally and mentally from a national team. I believe at some stage you have to observe just the rules and decide what you want.
"On the English side, for the national team, it is not so much a problem because if the guy decides to become English, he has had to observe and respect the rules like anybody else," Wenger went on. "Why should he then not be qualified to play for the national team? It is more a moral problem maybe for Manuel Almunia, because does he consider he has a chance to play in the Spanish national team or not?"
Arsenal head to Portsmouth on Saturday looking to extend a 20-game unbeaten run in the English Premier League. Wenger must do without striker Eduardo, who is out for around three weeks with a groin problem, and defender Mickael Silvestre is struggling to face his former club again because of a similar problem.
Van Persie return
Gael Clichy (back) will miss the Champions League second-leg against United on Tuesday, but leading scorer Robin van Persie (groin) could return next week, Wenger indicated. Russian playmaker Andrey Arshavin is available for the trip to Portsmouth having been cup-tied for the Champions League clash.
"We have a good run and want to win the game tomorrow. Tuesday is not in our mind," Wenger insisted. "Sometimes it is good to rest players, but we will have a strong team out and go there to win the game. When you are on a pitch, you focus on the game - you do not have in your mind what you do three days later, that is part of being a top-level footballer."
Wenger added: "We will go into the United game with full belief and with certainty. We are happy to say 'let's have a real go at Manchester United for 90 minutes' and I am convinced we will go through."