If you’re looking for a player within this Arsenal side who offers you something of a similar parallel to the club’s stuttering form this season, the chances are Wojciech Szczesny may well be your best bet.
Like the club that he plays for, the 22-year-old Polish international’s wealth of talent demands that expectations are always of a burgeoning high. A perpetual inability to remain consistent, however, has remained the ultimate flaw in design.
It’s been all too easy to pick on Szczesny in recent weeks and although Arsene Wenger has been the one taking the bullets for his much maligned team in recent weeks, every side needs an on-field scapegoat.
The likes of Gervinho and Andre Santos have all fitted the bill as an easy target, but where as Szczesny has been playing week-in, week-out for the Gunners, the aforementioned duo most certainly have not. With the former-Brentford loanee’s lack of confidence beginning to transcend into game-changing mistakes, the heat’s been on in recent weeks.
And as seen with David de Gea this season and countless more before him, the spotlight of critique always shines brighter when aimed the way of the man between the sticks.
But how ropey has the eccentric Pole been for Wenger’s side this season? While he’s not been quite the calamity that some quarters have made out this season, his dip in form earlier on in the campaign led his manager to suggest that his ‘keeper had been ‘suffering from a lack of confidence.’
As is so often the case with younger goalkeepers in this league, dealing with crosses into the box has been something of a perpetual issue for Szczesny over the past 12 months and following the 1-0 win over Sunderland earlier this month, it was something he seemed courageous enough to admit.
“I made a couple of saves that helped the team win the game and I’m happy for that but there is a lot of work still to be done,” he said.
“I still struggled a little bit on crosses so I would have been happier with a faultless performance.”
During the game against Martin O’Neill’s side in particular, despite looking not entirely convincing when the ball was pumped into the box, Szczesny offered us all a stunning reminder about his abilities as a shot-stopper, saving his side with a string of crucial stops.
However, it wasn’t long before he gave the doubters another chance to question his credentials. A suspect parry from Martin Olsson’s shot against Blackburn Rovers, just a week after his heroics at the Stadium of Light, landed straight to the feet of Colin Kazim-Richards and with it saw Arsenal’s hope of winning the FA Cup plucked away in one fell swoop.
Of course, you can take your pick from Arsene Wenger’s suspect team selection to Theo Walcott’s failure to track back, as to why Arsenal went out the FA Cup. But the fact remains that their goalkeeper who is widely perceived to be one of the highest class, made another, costly game-changing error.
The general school of thought with Szczesny and the approach towards the mistakes that continue to pepper his game is the wide assumption that he will eventually develop into a world-class goalkeeper. He certainly has all the tools required to become one and his fun and outspoken persona has more than endeared himself to the paying public at the Emirates.
Although unless he begins to coax the uncertainty and poor decision-makings out of his game, then should he develop into a world-class goalkeeper, the chances are it might not be at Arsenal.
The club has invested a lot of time, money and faith in their young goalkeeping prodigy, but it’s that first investment of which they can only afford Szczesny so much. There are fewer precious commodities within football than that of time.
Aged 22 or not, Arsenal cannot wait forever for Szczesny to mature into the goalkeeper he might become and they need him to start producing the goods consistently in the present. And how Szczesny steps up to the plate over the Premier League season’s run-in, may well determine Wenger’s thinking towards the purchase of a new goalkeeper at the end of the season.
The likes of Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic or Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet may not have the glamour factor of a Wojciech Szczesny, nor may they boast they boast the ultimate potential that Szczesny has in his locker.
But what they can do is offer a steadying, consistent presence to Arsene Wenger’s team that’s ready made to start working from the off. They might not be able to pull off the sort of stunning saves that Szczesny is capable of, but they excel in getting the bread-and-butter aspects correct. Steadiness and reliability aren’t words that are likely to get any Arsenal fans’ blood pumping. But they’re two words that have been absent in between the sticks for far too long now.
Does this mean that Szczesny’s Arsenal career is doomed to failure after another series of erratic performances? Not by any means and for all the criticism that’s drafted the big Pole’s way, it’s easy to forget quite how talented he remains for his tender years. But he simply cannot afford to keep making mistakes as the season enters its final leg.
Amongst his back-catalogue of cheeky jibes and outlandish statements to the press, Wojciech Szczesny once told reporters that he “might not give away this number one shirt for 10 or 15 years.” Instead of looking to the future, perhaps both Szczesny and Arsenal need to start focusing upon the present.