From 12 yards out the striker is always favourite, even if the keeper guesses correctly a well-taken penalty usually nestles itself in the back of the net. However, the events of Saturday lunchtime told an entirely different story as Wojciech Szczesny performed an increasingly familiar feat of astonishing athleticism.
Up against the blond curls of Dirk Kuyt, one of Liverpool’s heroes from their Carling Cup triumph, the Arsenal goalkeeper executed the Grobbelaar ‘spaghetti legs’ before diving to his right to palm Kuyt’s strike away. The rebound fell kindly to the Dutchman who seemed to hesistate as Szczesny flung himself back across goal to push the ball to safety. His twofold piece of brilliance sent Arsenal fans into a delirium and his teammates rushed to congratulate him, echoing David Seaman’s save of similar skill in the 2003 FA Cup semi-final.
The killjoys among us would argue that Kuyt should have buried the rebound or that the theatrics of Luis Suarez should never have been awarded a penalty in the first place, but there is no denying that this was another glowing reference Szczesny can add to his already impressive CV.
It wasn’t too long ago that the tabloids were touting the likes of Mark Schwarzer as the solution to Arsenal’s goalkeeping troubles. Manuel Almunia was scrambling around on the floor trying to pick up the shards of his shattered confidence whilst Fabianski appeared to have a minor meltdown every time a cross came into the box. It was without question the perfect time for Szczesny to take centre stage.
Arsene Wenger had already been predicting big things for his young shot stopper after he excelled during a loan spell at Brentford in 2010.
“I really believe in him that he will one day be Arsenal’s No 1,” he said. “When you think it is a goal, with him it is still no goal. He makes unbelievable saves. We are great believers that he will be an outstanding goalkeeper.”
The emergence of Szczesny has proven to be a rare highlight during Arsenal’s recent seasons of anguish and certain comparisons can be made with the rise of England’s very own Joe Hart. Both are tall, imposing figures that have established themselves in the first-team after successful loan spells.
Szczesny’s gravity defying height has undoubtedly helped his journey towards the number one jersey. At 6”5 he offers a sense of security whilst he appears to be only member of the Arsenal side capable of looking Per Mertesacker in the eye. It’s this basic physical attribute that inspires an immediate degree of confidence amongst his fellow defenders, which has been vital this season, as Arsenal have rotated through a number of different defensive line-ups.
Despite his baby-face appearance, Szczesny is by no means the shy and timid creature you might expect. He is continually barking out orders to this centre-back pairing and likes to perform multiple Cruyff turns as an attacker bears down on him.
Szczesny has himself confessed to being a bit “mad” but it goes without saying that all the best goalkeepers are. It’s this rather endearing quality that perhaps reminds Arsenal fans of former household favourite Jens Lehman.
“I have always said that to be diving around for two hours every day and to get hit and to be in pain every day, you have to be a little bit mad,” Szczesny says. “That is what we do, so we are crazy.”
Upon watching Szczesny at the weekend it was easy to spot familiar traits of previous goalkeeping greats. He opens his body up like Peter Schmeichel and employs the aforementioned Grobbelaar ‘spaghetti legs’ during penalties, whilst his outspoken vocal tendencies mimic those of compatriot Artur Boruc. It’s these little examples that subconsciously convey a level of confidence that people can instantly relate to.
Szczesny has also enjoyed success on the international scene and will surely be looking to use Poland’s hosting of this summers European Championships as an inspiration to continue his fine form for Arsenal. His inclusion in the national side can only be seen as a blessing for Wenger who will benefit from his young keepers new wealth of experience.
Szczesny is by no means perfect and has himself suffered rare moments of individual errors, the most significant occurring during their defeat in last seasons Carling Cup final. However, he has since grown in stature along with his partner in crime Laurent Koscielny and the pair have without doubt been two of Arsenal’s standout performers this term.
They say the best teams in football are built from the back and whilst good goalkeepers prevent you losing games it’s the great ones help you win them. Judging by his heroics on Saturday, Wojciech Szczesny can do just that.