Florian Thauvin had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes, but there was already a sense that he could offer life to Marseille’s innocuous attack.
The newly-signed winger carved out the French side’s two best opportunities, seeing Nacho Monreal clear his shot off the line, and forcing an excellent save from Wojciech Szczesny in a congested penalty area.
There is normally a feeling of trepidation when an inexperienced youngster steps into the fold. That wasn’t really the case when Szczesny made his Premier League debut for Arsenal against Manchester United in 2010. The other two options, Manuel Almunia and Lukas Fabianski, were so calamitous that by default Szczesny became the saviour before anyone really had a clear understanding of what he was capable of.
Those early stages of his career in the Arsenal first team were fuelled by a clear drive to prove his worth. Age and the chasm separating him from the experienced names in the Premier League went out the window. Arsenal had their goal in safe hands; the player to hold that position for the next ten years, as it’s so often described.
The halt in Szczesny’s development that eventually followed was a concern. He looked lazy, disinterested and incapable of dragging himself out of the depression he’d fallen into.
Szczesny’s first save against Thauvin, however, was a reminder of the turnaround in his game. For the majority of the game against Marseille, Arsenal were dominant, allowing a clear a path for that lethargic state to re-enter Szczesny’s mind. But once again, as it has been for much of this season, that wasn’t to be. Even the very best defences allow for small streams to burst through their fortifications. Yet unlike in the past, this Arsenal goalkeeper is saving his team points, rather than losing them.
Arsene Wenger has played the biggest part. You wonder how much was said to the Polish international, if anything at all. Perhaps it was all mental. Perhaps all that was needed for Szczesny to get back on track was a set of scare tactics to prove that no matter how dire things were in the past, this current Arsenal team are not in the business of accepting mediocrity.
Fabianski did his part last summer. So much has been said about Arsenal beating Bayern Munich last season – still the only blemish on the Bavarians’ home record this calendar year – and yet it can sometimes be overlooked that Szczesny wasn’t in goal on the day. Fabianski helped Arsenal grab that final Champions League spot, but his short contributions could have a significantly longer affects.
Emiliano Viviano, the goalkeeper on loan at Fiorentina last season, was brought in this summer as further warning to Szczesny that his talent was not to be so carelessly discarded. If there is any eye-opening evidence as to how important those warning shots have been from Wenger, Arsenal have only conceded once this month, with clean sheets against Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. That one goal came against Manchester United, when Robin van Persie’s shoulder took advantage of a last-minute change in Arsenal’s backline.
Szczesny’s form is representing of the overall picture at Arsenal. There’s a newly-found urgency at the club, stemming from the manager. There’s no more time for half efforts or hollow promises of tomorrow. A good goalkeeper is a vital piece of a team challenging for silverware. But instead of rectifying the problem via the market – at least through an expensive purchase – Wenger has rightly chosen to work on the talent he has in house.
As is usually the case with Wenger, persistence and patience is bringing vastly deserved rewards.