The idea of the Polish international fulfilling his undoubted potential and becoming one of Europe’s best goalkeepers became an afterthought; instead, it was the need to get through 90 minutes with as little commotion and error as possible. Like with the rest of the club, complacency had set in and the interest to reach for an extra five or 10 per cent had long since disappeared.
But where the win at the Allianz Arena last March proved that Arsenal are capable of winning big and altering their playing style, it also became an awakening for Szczesny that no matter how uncertain the journey was with the other goalkeeping option in Lukas Fabianski, it was nevertheless a journey worth taking if at least one battle could be won: either the kick Szczesny needed, or the successful navigating of 90 minutes.
Szczesny knows now that the goalkeeping position isn’t his to keep, but rather one that he needs to strive to attain. The loan signing of Emiliano Viviano was a warning shot fired by Arsene Wenger for the Pole to shape up, to work at his game and specifically his mentality. Goalkeepers need to be confident; it’s an aspect that Fabianski has long been lacking. But where does confidence cross the border into cockiness and even laziness? Arguably, you have to be better than just a good goalkeeper with excellent reflexes to play for a team like Arsenal. With the team’s approach based around possession football, there will be long spells where the goalkeeper is nothing but an extra among the thousands of spectators in the stadium. An Arsenal goalkeeper also needs to be mentally prepared for the occasions where he’ll be called into action, basically keeping himself ‘warm’ through periods of inactivity.
Szczesny’s standout save against West Brom is what he’s capable of but hasn’t always shown. The shot, which took a deflection off Mathieu Flamini, would have gone in had the Szczesny of old been manning the posts. This time, the Pole readjusted and leapt back in the direction he’d come to keep the score at 0-0.
There shouldn’t be an argument that age and a lack of experience will hold players back. Goalkeepers like Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Thibaut Courtois are highly coveted, and yet neither have gone past their twenty-first birthday. The same was true for David de Gea when he made the switch from Atletico Madrid to Manchester United; good players generally shine through no matter their level of experience in the game.
Szczesny is capable, he has the talent to hold the No.1 spot at Arsenal for a considerable amount of time and take up company with the aforementioned group when they rightly acquire the status of best goalkeepers in the world. But he needed a nudge, in fact much more than that. He needed a manager to turn threats into action and prove that no matter the feeble state of the Arsenal goalkeeping department, Szczesny was droppable.
The goalkeeping shuffle at the tail end of last season was a gamble that paid off in the short term with Fabianski putting together a run of good performances, but also a gamble that should, based on current form, pay off in the long term.
Szczesny is far from the finished article, but he is finally back on the path to realising his maximum potential, a path that he momentarily strayed away from.
Is Szczesny back on the right path at Arsenal?
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