As Wojciech Szczesny prepares to return to action this weekend, he received a timely boost yesterday.
The Pole, relegated to the status of FA Cup keeper, was voted the Brentford fans goalkeeper of the century/decade and it made me think, after a few weeks of “Ooooooospinaaa!“, isn’t it time that we as Arsenal fans recognise Szczesny’s talents?
More importantly, isn’t it time that the Pole, currently not in goal, is restored to the first team?
I mean, if you’re gonna get uppity about a (not-so) crafty coffin nail, then how does Jack Wilshere fit into that? And if you’re going to talk about Wilshere’s obvious talent, I would counter that he’s never sustained it across a whole season and have two more words for you: Golden Glove.
This isn’t some far off achievement either.
Szczesny won, or shared, this award with Petr Cech as recently as last May.
Was it a fluke? In my view, no more so than Aaron Ramsey’s Superman impersonation.
Has Szczesny become a bad goalkeeper overnight?
I don’t think so.
I do think the ever-rotating cast of characters in front of him hasn’t helped and it’s noticeable that Ospina has been protected by the same four men, five if you count Francis Coquelin (and we probably should), during his month in the first team.
I wonder now about the effect Arsène Wenger’s decision to play Lukasz Fabianski in the FA Cup final may have had on Szczesny.
This isn’t just hindsight talking, either; I wondered at the time.
Yes, yes, FA Cup keeper. I know that, but the bottom line is Wenger’s decision to stick with his number two for the final was unprecedented.
Think back to that run of cup finals from 2001-05, it was always the number one in goal. A good thing, too.
Can you imagine what the score would have been in 2005 with Almunia in goal?
That decision almost proved costly as Fabianski’s inability to get off his line certainly contributed to the two goal deficit we were faced with after just eight minutes.
Whatever Wojciech said at the time, he must have been hurt and I wonder how much damage it’s done to that most important of assets in a keeper: his confidence.
Am I surprised by Szczesny’s form this season? Yes, I am, but I also think it’s explainable.
You may look at this recent award and say, “Ah, well it’s only Brentford” and as someone who spent a couple of years of childhood watching the Bees, I’d say you’ve got a point. But we are talking about Szczesny going to Brentford as a 19-year-old and impressing everyone there to such an extent that five years later, they still remember what he did for them.
We are talking about a player who came into our first team a year later and looked born to it.
Or am I just overstating the case for someone I loved just because he wasn’t Manuel Almunia?
I don’t think so.
I think that we forget, sometimes, that Szczesny is still only 24 which, for a goalkeeper, is very young indeed.
When you speak of exceptional goalkeepers at a young age, the likes of De Gea and Courtois are an exception. Incidentally, they’ve both made more first team appearances than Szczesny- De Gea is close to 300 first team appearances whilst the Pole began this season with 180 appearances under his belt.
I’m not trying to make excuses for Szczesny here, just provide some context.
The bottom line is that I look at Szczesny as someone with a huge amount of talent, perhaps just needing a steady hand to provide him guidance, to help him reach his full potential- not for the first time in my life, I wonder what it is Gerry Peyton actually does.
Szczesny has all the attributes needed to be a great Arsenal keeper – look at his command of the penalty area, the decisions he makes generally, his confidence – all important in a keeper.
The one thing I would say, and it is quite a vital thing, is that his shot stopping could improve.
I look at Szczesny and think, although Ospina hasn’t done too much wrong (kicking and a habit of palming balls into dangerous areas aside), we are currently playing the wrong man in goal.
Arsène has said, repeatedly, that Szczesny is his number one, it’s time to let him prove it.