| 12.1°C Dublin

Mannone ready to oust Szczesny from Gunners No 1 shirt after French test

Vito Mannone is in no doubt a spell at Hull helped shape him to challenge for the Arsenal No 1 spot again this season.

The 24-year-old Italian deputised for injured Poland international Wojciech Szczesny as the Gunners came from behind to beat Montpellier 2-1 away in Tuesday night's Champions League Group B opener.

Mannone was given little chance with Younes Belhanda's chipped penalty which put the Champions League debutants into an early lead, but otherwise he did all that was required of him.

The goalkeeper pulled off a smart low first-half save from Remi Cabella, who later hit the bar, and then was in the right place with 10 minutes left to block Belhanda's close-range effort which helped secure victory.

That followed on from two clean sheets in the Premier League against Stoke and Liverpool, leaving him very much in contention to start at Manchester City on Sunday.

It is a far cry from the scenario facing Mannone after a calamitous display in a Champions League game at Olympiacos last December, which then saw him farmed out on loan to Hull -- and at the time perhaps out of Arsenal's future plans.

However, a productive four-month spell of regular football, during which he kept a club record six consecutive clean sheets for the Tigers, helped sharpen Mannone's focus.

"Every goalkeeper has his own path, and I had mine. I had bad times and I just rolled up my sleeves and worked hard. Then, I thought: 'Let's go to Hull'," he said. "Nobody wants to go there really, but I found a good club, good fans and I gained experience.

"I played games as a No 1 -- 24 games in a row -- so that's what I needed. It helped me going on to the pitch thinking: 'Okay, I can be No 1 now'.

"The 'keeper is one of the most important positions because you can make a save and bring the three points home or you can do a mistake and everything is your fault. I am ready for it.

"Before the Southampton game the boss talked to me, and for the first time I felt he understood I was ready to be No 1."

Mannone feels going through his Athens humiliation -- where he made a complete hash of attempting to scissor-kick the ball clear as it bounced on into the empty net -- saw him come out a stronger person.

"It is a game where, I know you find it crazy, but it was a good lesson for me," he said. "I had another mind at the time. It was almost one year ago and my mentality was I was nearly away from Arsenal. I was expected to go on loan. I didn't feel confident.

"I had not played for a year and a half, and at the time, my mind was not ready. I did not help myself because I needed to be sharp and always on my toes."

With manager Arsene Wenger serving the first of a three-match UEFA touchline ban, assistant boss Steve Bould took charge of the team at the Stade de la Mosson.

It was an experience which the former Gunners defender claimed left him with a "headache and a half", but maintained the belief ahead of Sunday's trip to take on the Premier League champions.

German centre-back Per Mertesacker -- part of a rearguard which has only been breached twice this season -- sees no reason why Arsenal cannot head to the Etihad Stadium in a confident mindset.

"We are convinced that we can stay in the league, at the top, and that's our target for Sunday," he said. "Last year we lost at Manchester City. It was a very tight game so we will try to do better this time.

"I feel like we are in a better shape than last year, because we are now in a good shape from the beginning (of the season). I think we are well prepared now."

Irish Independent