Yesterday’s win at Brighton was Wojciech Szczesny’s first match in-goal following the 2-0 loss to Southampton on New Year’s Day, and his much-celebrated nicotine break in the showers.
David Ospina has since had three starts versus Hull City, Stoke City and Manchester City – keeping clean sheets in each of these matches.
In fact, both Ospina and Damian Martinez have kept clean sheets in 50% or more of the games they have played this season.
Woj’s last clean sheet was a 3-0 win versus Burnley on 1st November and Arsenal have won nearly 78% of the time when either of the backup keepers are used.
This is a marked drop in form considering he shared the Golden Glove with Petr Cech last year despite the small sample size available for the reserve keepers.
Of course, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration as stats can, and often are misleading.
Who was playing in front of the keeper, for instance? Was it the first-choice backline or one with full-backs in the centre? Who were the opposition? Etc. etc.
However, there seemed to be something amiss with the Pole against Brighton, his usual cocky attitude nowhere to be seen.
One might think that benching Szczesny in favour of Ospina would bolster the keeper’s form by challenging him to improve.
Throughout his career, he has shown a compulsion to leave his line, something he kept in check for the majority of last season, and apparently dropping Woj for three matches following his poor showing wasn’t enough to quell this tendency, as it recurred during the Brighton match.
This season it has often kicked off a calamitous sequence of events that has allowed us to concede goals: One of our defenders drops back to cover an open goal, combined with the opposing team either charging forward on a break or crowding the box. Not only does this thin our defence by leaving it a man short (and putting a much shorter man in-goal), but it also leaves a wide-open goal for them to score.
Against Brighton Szczesny rushed out to block Chris O’Grady (the previous goal-scorer), who then passed to Sam Baldock, who sent the ball into an almost wide-open and undefended goal.
Things might have been much different had Szczesny stayed at home and protected the goal area, allowing Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal and Gibbs to drop back naturally.
One can only assume he is sensing they are not dropping back fast enough to create enough of a barrier – something our defence has been often accused on a fast break.
Problem is, there’s not much to defend when your last man is standing at the edge of the 6-yard box.
This hasn’t happened with either of the other two keepers.
Hopefully Szczesny can rid himself of “happy feet”, and we can have last year’s award-winning keeper back real soon but in the meantime, he faces a real fight to claim back his jersey.