Often the last to be credited but the first to be criticised, a top class goalkeeper is central to any Premier League title tilt. Chelsea have it in Petr Cech and United had it last season in David de Gea. Ever since the retirement of David Seaman, Arsenal have meandered from one unconvincing stopper to another, but in Wojciech Szczesny they may finally have found their man.
It hasn’t always been this way though. Wenger had often flirted with the idea of replacing the Pole, Begovic comes to mind in most recent times as a popular option, and considering the stopper’s tumultuous past you can understand why.
Szczesny has so often polarised opinion. An undoubted shot stopper, but on his day like so many goalkeepers prone to the most brainless of footballing gaffes. To be a top goalkeeper you are measured not by the spectacle of your greatest saves, but as to how good you are when you are at your worst.
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It isn’t good enough for Arsenal to have someone who will one minute palm it out of the top corner and the next bundle someone over carelessly in the box. You need a goalkeeper who even on a bad day does the basics and can put in at the very least a 7/10 performance.
This simply couldn’t be said of Szczesny in previous seasons, Wenger was often forced to experiment with Mannone and Fabianski in order to take the fledgling Pole out of the firing line. Based on current form though we may well have seen the prodigal Pole turning a corner.
Confidence has never been an issue with Szczesny, you only have to look towards his constant berating of Spurs fans to realise that he is all too happy to dish it out. A flamboyant and self-assured character that displays many of the characteristics that are so crucial to being a top level keeper.
Yet it works both ways. His confidence sees him all to often race off his line, and attempt to go for balls that to any onlooker would appear a near impossibility. 95% of the time the Pole is as good as anyone, it is that 5% of the time that has been the cause for concern among many Arsenal fans.
The statistics place him as one of the best; a 97% claim success rate last year with an average of less than a goal conceded per game, it isn’t so much his ability that is a question more his application.
However, this season we are finally seeing signs that the 23-year-old is heeding some of the advice and concerns about his play.
Last weekend was supposed to be the test to really see where the Pole was at, and sure enough he stood up to all that Liverpool could muster. The SAS partnership is touted as the standout forward pairing in the whole league, yet on Saturday afternoon it was found wanting. A combination of a much-improved backline and a more restrained Szczesny helped ease the burden on the Arsenal goal. Indeed much of what the Pole did was of the highest order, a number of top class saves to go with a calmer approach to his all round game.
There no longer appears that anxiety between keeper and defence that there was perhaps last year, instead there is now a sense of understanding between the two. Szczesny is central to the unnatural wave of calmness that has embraced the Emirates, it isn’t all his own doing, the establishment of Koscielny and Mertersacker as a top rate centre half pairing has helped steady the side enormously.
Arsenal may well have boasted an enviable defensive record in past seasons, but this papered over the cracks of an overall ailing unit. If Arsenal are to return to the glory days of the past then certainly a reshaping of kinds would have to be in order.
We are surely seeing signs of such a change, rather than the personnel overhaul that so many had previously angled for, we are currently seeing the result of hard graft on the training ground. Wenger knows that he has at his disposal one of the world must promising young keepers, raw and inexperienced it is down to the manager to ensure that the harmful habits of the past are placed firmly behind him.
Szczesny is by no means the finished article but he is in my opinion finally on the way to achieving his potential.
Has Szczesny finally woken up and smelt the coffee?
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