Many Arsenal fans will be haunted by a great number of calamitous goalkeeping performances in the recent past. Manuel Almunia throwing the ball into his own net against Manchester United; Vito Mannone forgetting he can pick the ball up inside his own area; Lukasz Fabianski throwing, or at least guiding, the ball into his own net in the Champions League; and who can forget Almunia’s shove in the back of his own defender, leaving a wide open goal for West Brom to capitalize.
That ship seems to have been steadied in recent seasons with Wojciech Szczesny establishing himself as the undisputed no.1 at Arsenal. The young Polish international is a talent, but his ease at landing the no.1 spot was facilitated by the terrible options Arsene Wenger had besides him.
Make no mistake, Szczesny is a good goalkeeper. His confidence has seemed to comfort the back four somewhat, while he’s never far from an outstanding save. But despite that position being reasonably safe, Arsenal are still in danger without a confident and comfortable back up for their no.1.
It’s maybe right to criticise Szczesny for falling asleep at the wheel a handful of times last season. A lack of any real competition for the position has allowed him to become a little casual in his approach. Worryingly, this isn’t something that is isolated to just the goalkeeping position at Arsenal.
On more than one occasion last season, the Polish international let in soft goals that were easily preventable. Maybe he’s just not that good, but I struggle to see that as being the only viable explanation.
His debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford was impressive, as he did enough to force Wayne Rooney to sky his penalty high and wide, while also looking extremely steady in a difficult environment. He’s also displayed excellent reflexes throughout his short time as Arsenal’s first-choice, but there is a real worry about the options behind him should he be forced out through injury.
Unlike a few Arsenal players still at the club, Lukasz Fabianski really shouldn’t divide opinion. He might have a safe pair of hands and unwavering confidence in training – as we’re led to believe – but we’ve seen little of it in competitive action. He was given a good run in the side last season, saving penalties and looking a fairly decent back up. But how much can really be counted on from a player whose brain turns to mush upon the sight of a rampaging opposition attack?
I also find it difficult to come to terms with Arsenal allowing Damian Martinez to step up as the genuine alternative to Szczesny. The young Argentine may be talented with a good career projected for him, however, he’s a teenager who is yet to figure in top-flight competitive action in Europe. Arsenal’s biggest concern with the goalkeeping position is bringing in some veteran experience to really steady the ship and give the manager and players someone they’re confident in.
Arsenal’s goalkeeping situation is not one that should be taken lightly, especially considering the injury bug that hits the squad each year. But if the club do have designs on the top four and beyond, it is imperative that a little more action is taken with regards to this position.
Szczesny may turn out to be one of the top talents in European football, and his first-team experience will go a long way to ensuring he reaches his potential. But sometimes all the matches in a season isn’t enough if there is no one to guide you or help share the burden.
Arsenal really are one long-term injury away to their no.1 keeper to being in a genuine crisis – and not one of those fantasy crisis that the media like to conjure up. Arsene Wenger will likely wheel out that now-famous quote of not wanting to kill off his youngsters with greater competition. But he’ll surely kill off Arsenal’s ambitions as a whole if he doesn’t address the need for another good goalkeeper.