One of the key ingredients for a solid defensive record is consistency. The players and the goalkeeper need to know and understand each other in order to perform effectively, they need to communicate, know what each other will be doing at any individual moment and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. With that in mind you wouldn’t be surprised to read that Arsenal have turned out a total of twenty different back fours this season, some of whom don’t even play for the club any more. However, despite what many people think, Arsenal’s defensive record has been improving dramatically since the beginning of the season. The number of goals they have conceded on the road has been poor but you have to remember that most of those goals came in three games where they conceded a combined total of fifteen goals away at Chelsea, Man Utd and Blackburn. Apart from that Arsenal have only conceded nine goals all season and have conceded the third least number of goals at home.
You could put this down to a number of different things. Thomas Vermaelen being back is a massive boost, every game he seems to play better and better, but he has not played the whole season. Laurent Koscielny is twice the player he was last season; also Per Mertesacker seems to be adapting quickly to life in the Premier League. However the largest contributing factor has to be the rise and rise of Wojicech Szczesny. His performances are not necessarily a surprise to many Arsenal fans who, on his performances last year, always knew that he was going to be good. However the performances of Fabianski and Mannone in the Champions League game against Olympiakos were a stark reminder of just how far Arsenal has come from the brief period last year when Szczesny was yet to break in to the first team. The young Pole’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric and the confidence the defence have in him as well as his own self-belief underpins the defensive performances of Arsenal at the moment. People might say that Vermaelen is the key but, as brilliant as the Belgian is, that night at Olympiakos proved just how vital Szczesny is for the Gunners.
He is far from the finished article, and he definitely has a touch of the Jens Lehmann about him. By that I mean his eccentricities will get him in to trouble at some point. His penchant for dummying onrushing strikers when he has the ball instead of just clearing, whilst impressive, will surely end in disaster at some point. Just as it did for Lehmann against Mark Viduka in 2004 when Jens was caught just the wrong side of being calm against a striker with good reactions. However these are minor issues that he can iron out of his game and, for Arsenal fans, it must be nice to have a keeper whose problem lies in his excess confidence rather than being totally devoid of any self belief whatsoever as Fabianski and Almunia seem to be.
One thing that Arsenal fans may be surprised to hear however is that Szczesny currently has a better clean sheet to game ratio than any Arsenal goalkeeper who has appeared for Arsenal on more than fifty occasions (i.e. not including goalkeepers who have played 2 carling cup games and kept clean sheets only to never play again). This may well surprise Arsenal fans who may be struggling to remember any clean sheets that their team have kept however there have been a fair few this year and although Arsenal’s defence performed far from admirably last year they tended to collapse and concede lots of goals in the odd game rather than concede every game.
For such a young goalkeeper to have played so well this year is truly remarkable. Whilst the £20m David de Gea’s performances have been excused by his arrival from Spain Arsenal could point out that only 18 months ago Szczesny was plying his trade at Brentford. It may be English football but he has had to adapt to play against some of the best strikers in the world on a regular basis. Something that United’s Goalkeeper knows only too well. For Szczesny to have collected the Arsenal ‘Player of the Month’ award, as voted by the fans, on multiple occasions this season you get the feeling that he must be doing something right. Anybody in a position to take that sort of accolade away from Robin van Persie with his current form has to be.
For more Arsenal news and stories follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay
FREE football app that pays you CASH