It is fair to say Arsenal have really turned a corner since their humiliating defeats to Manchester United and arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur and are currently on a nine game unbeaten run in all competitions ahead of two home games in the space five days. That run that has seen the Gunners rapidly climb the Premier League table and become the first English side to progress to the Champions League. But it seems the form has been credited to one man, but is this just narrow minded insanity.
Robin Van Persie seems to be the only man taking credit for the revival at the Emirates, scoring 12 goals in nine games, an impressive record, but is that more to do with the failings of his fellow strikers rather than his individual brilliance. None of the other Arsenal attackers, including Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin and Gervinho have scored more than two league goals, leaving Van Persie to put away all of the chances as the sole striker.
There has only been four games where Arsenal have scored but Van Persie hasn’t this season, a record that the Gunners can not afford to continue.
However, one position that has been a constant weak link for the North London side for years now has been their faulty man between the sticks. Errors and leaking of goals have lost Arsenal points on a regular basis and the goalkeeping position was becoming a real concern for Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal fans. Long gone were the days of David Seaman, a reliable world class stopper year on year, easing any fears the defenders had behind them. Even Jens Lehman managed to keep some sort of consistency in the final line of defence for the Gunners, with his wacky personality, but sharp reflexes.
This season Wojciech Szczesny has been a hero of the Arsenal cause, showing stunning composure for a young lad and pulling off some spectacular saves along the way. Individual performances in crucial games, especially against Udinese in the Champions League qualifier and a hard fought home victory over Stoke City have given his side some crucial victories in their progress in both competitions.
The Polish number one will be hoping to represent his country when they host Euro 2012 next summer and things are just looking up for the aspiring keeper. The 6ft 5 stopper began the 2010-11 season as fourth choice at the Emirates and impressed on loan at league one side Brentford. After some poor form and injuries for Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone, Szczesny was given a chance in cup competitions and eventually the Premier League to prove his worth and stake a claim for the dreaded Arsenal goalie shirt.
Szczesny grabbed the chance and immediately became a fans favourite with his passion and reflexes which helped Arsene Wenger install him as number one, something that Szczesny has not looked back from. The first name on the team sheet, Szczesny has got many years in front of him between the sticks for the gunners and he will begin to take headlines for sure.
His command of his area this season has been terrific and it appears he is growing in confidence week-in-week-out, with crucial saves at crucial times in games.
Arsenal goalkeeping legend Bob Wilson believes Szczesny has been a vital member of the Arsenal squad for a while now and he may be more important player than the star man himself, RVP.
“He becomes as valuable in a way as Robin van Persie,” said Wilson, “and in some ways more valuable. Because any side that’s going to win things needs a solid spine. And it’s fair to say that any side that wins the title, you will generally say their goalkeeper has been the most consistent keeper in that season.
“You look at the pictures when we beat Barcelona, for the second goal, he’s on his knees,” said Wilson of the 2-1 win in February. “So that’s what is going through him about winning. You have to want to win. He wants to be the best.”
Arsène Wenger agrees. “He’s a quiet boy usually, you know,” said the Arsenal manager. “But he has something that is difficult to explain. Some keepers have that, some do not. That’s what you call presence, charisma, confidence. It must be a mixture of all that. He is a deep thinker, you do not play at this level and make the decisions he makes if you do not think about the game.”
The 21-year-old keeper deserves much praise for Arsenal’s return to form, with RVP one fire at one end, it is easy to ignore the heroics of others, but Szczesny is one man that can’t be overlooked. With an inconsistent defence and a lack of aerial ability in the side, Szczesny has been a breath of fresh air back there and is an unsung hero of the Arsenal cause.
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