With fresh reports suggesting David Ospina is set to leave the club this summer, it’s time for some reflection – on what that means for the first-team balance, as well as the goalkeepers in the youth ranks.
Petr Čech was never going joining Arsenal to play second fiddle, we already knew that. A world-class goalkeeper that has proven his quality for over a decade in the Premier League, as well as various European competitions, Chelsea reluctantly let their legendary figure leave on his own terms – because he couldn’t be guaranteed regular minutes with Thibaut Courtois returning to Stamford Bridge.
Goalkeepers have much more longevity than outfield players, and often reach their peak performance levels in their mid-30’s. Čech himself is now 33, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Ospina is Colombia’s first-choice goalkeeper, and rightly believes he should be playing more often than he is in a competitive environment to continue his goalkeeping progression.
Either way you look at it, goalkeepers will always want playing time. A prolonged period on the substitutes’ bench isn’t beneficial for anyone, and can often create an unhealthy atmosphere in the dressing room.
Taking your chance, once it comes
When Ospina’s been either injured or ill this term, Matt Macey has gladly taken the mantle as Petr’s understudy. At 21-years-old, there is plenty of potential for Matt to continue improving, and will find the experience of playing alongside one of the Premier League’s greatest goalkeepers is invaluable to his development.
Standing tall at 6ft5in, he’s often acted as a reliable figure in the u21’s when called upon in Premier League fixtures this season. It seems inevitable that he’ll make the step-up from youth level to first-team proper, something that Alex Iwobi has done excellently in recent months.
The Wojciech predicament
Ah, Wojciech Szczesny.
Plenty of critics were virtually calling for his departure after his howler against Southampton – then, he was caught smoking in the showers following the 2-0 defeat last year.
Fast-forward twelve months, and the Polish stopper is currently Roma’s first-choice goalkeeper. Not for long, mind, as the Italians have made it clear they are reluctant to extend his stay beyond the summer, when his loan spell expires.
So, why is he a possible problem? Undoubtedly a good goalkeeper, who has been with us since 2006 (youth), will he be willing to replace Ospina as Čech’s understudy?
Despite all of his encouraging comments when discussing Čech’s arrival back in the summer, he ultimately departed the club on a loan deal. It’s understandable, partly because he would’ve wanted to build his confidence back after a forgettable individual campaign, but also perhaps he knew he wouldn’t have played as much as he would’ve liked.
It’s a tricky situation, and I frankly find it hard to believe Szczesny would be happy as Arsenal’s second-choice. A very talented shot-stopper, who is prone to lapses in concentration and his decision-making can occasionally be questionable, his overall presence isn’t half as reliable or effective when compared to Čech.
Plenty of clubs across Europe would be happy to have him in their side, but could he actually come back and compete for his starting spot back? I’m not so confident.
If he does return, I’d assume that Macey would be loaned out to a Championship club. Having already gained experience with League Two side Accrington Stanley, I feel he’s good enough to be handed a chance in a higher league – something that Emiliano Martinez (23) has done with Wolves this season.
What about the u21s?
The likes of Hugo Keto, Ryan Huddart (both 18) and Joao Virgínia (16) are all very talented and consequently will be expected to continue their respective development in the youth ranks, but I don’t think we’d see them feature in first-team action for a few years yet.
As for Deyan Iliev, who turns 21 next week, he’ll be hoping for a speedy recovery from surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. The Macedonia U21 international hasn’t featured at all for us this season, but signed his first professional contract with the club last March, suggesting the hierarchy believe he’s talented enough to make it.
His contract expires in June of 2018 – and he’ll be hoping to finalise a season-long loan in the summer once he’s fully recovered, because other goalkeepers have overtaken him in the pecking order whilst he’s struggled with injury problems in recent months.