Manchester United’s Premier League title win proved that there was a lot of discussion and hysteria over nothing. Those who knew how talented David de Gea was from his days at Atletico Madrid always saw a title-winning goalkeeper in the making. In England, they were quick to shoot him down when the opportunity arose. But the turn of this calendar year proved once again that Alex Ferguson got it right with his investment in one of Europe’s most talented goalkeepers.
It doesn’t change too much, however. De Gea is sure to be one of two or three goalkeepers battling for the Spanish No 1 shirt when the time is right, but the day isn’t won yet. The youngster is still susceptible to mistakes at his age, and the wise move would be for United to bring in a veteran this summer to act as a reliever across four fronts.
And much of the same can be said about Arsenal. It many ways, both clubs are in the same boat in wanting to develop young goalkeeping talents for the long term.
Wojciech Szczesny was taken out of the firing line in March following a string of poor performances and the belief that his concentration was shaken. Lukas Fabianski came in and offered the Arsenal No 1 a taste of what it’s like to be rightly benched when standards are not met. After so many years of Arsene Wenger just making do with what he has in goal, the manager has finally found a solution to help bring the best out of Szczesny.
One of the highlights of Szczesny’s recent performances in goal was the save at Loftus Road against Loic Remy, diving to his left to tip the curling shot round the post. It was a save the keeper might not have made earlier in the season, and one that has gone a long way to keeping Arsenal well in the face for a top four spot.
It also said a lot about Szczesny that a save like that came up after so long without much in the way of shots on goal from QPR. It’s incredibly easy for players, especially younger, inexperienced players to lose focus and allow saveable shots to bundle past them. On that occasion, the Polish international looked like a player suited for a top Premier League club.
David de Gea’s emergence from the criticism has been far more emphatic, though. Here was a player who often conveys a shy, introverted personality coming to the fore when United desperately needed some stability in goal. Forget the issues about coming from crosses and taking charge of the penalty area, de Gea needed to be the focused and reliable last line of defence in a noticeably unspectacular United team. It’s a team who had to deal with the veteran centre-back pairing being broken up due to injuries or age while still fighting for dominance in English football. The transfer fee involved and the expectation to properly succeed Edwin van der Sar shows just how far de Gea has come.
You’d like to see more of the same of what has been some of the highlights of both de Gea and Szczesny’s season. Both are supremely talented individuals and have all the makings of becoming top tier European goalkeepers alongside prominent names such as Manuel Neuer. But where inconsistencies or fragile minds may dent rapid progress, the presence of a veteran goalkeeper who has been there and done it can be invaluable. It’s not just about both United and Arsenal (although Arsenal are in a far more needing situation) securing the short term, but also ensuring that the goalkeeping position is safe and well-guarded for many years to come.
For Arsenal especially, there is a tendency to become lazy and content with what they have. Wenger has always been about offering younger players opportunities if he believed them to be just about good enough. But for too long we’ve seen how detrimental that mentality can be. This hasn’t been a full awakening for Szczesny, and much more work will need to go into proving he is the best player for the club.