The observant among you will know I’m a big Wojciech Szczesny fan.
The clue, of course, is in my column banner image, where he has been selected as the lead protagonist in advertising my weekly offering, but there’s also the part where he’s a flipping good goalkeeper.
He treads that fine line between confidence, arrogance and outright madness that mark out the very best stoppers – he’s strong in the air (in 2014/15, he demonstrated he can be that goalkeeper we’ve been crying out for – one who can nullify Andy Carroll!), he’s even better with the ball at his feet, and his shot-stopping isn’t to be sniffed at either. He’s somehow even got youth on his side still, having just turned 26, and potentially has another decade at the top.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have his faults; he does. He’s a young man with much still to learn, but here at Daily Cannon we’ve maintained, both last summer and this, that we’d be bonkers to let him go.
Throughout the 2016 episode of the saga, there have been issues over a salary we subsidised the year before, rumours of interest from Napoli and latterly Everton, and reports that Arsenal were indeed holding out for a permanent deal at a mooted £15m, or at the very least an option to buy at the end of a loan.
In the end, it’s simply one more year’s loan, with Roma paying the full whack this time around, and also stumping up €1m in the form of a loan fee with no option to buy.
I’m thrilled, and tellingly my Spurs-supporting husband is less so.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about his abilities, but the key element here is that we’ll struggle to find another goalkeeper at the same kind of level. Only a handful truly stand out above him, and all of them are already at top European clubs and therefore unavailable to us.
Meanwhile, we have invested the best part of a decade into a very talented player who needs to add experience and maturity to his game, two traits which come with that rare commodity: time.
David de Gea is a year younger, Thibaut Courtois two, and despite their stellar reputations they both also still suffer occasionally from moments of inexperience – think Courtois’ rash actions in the opening game of last season for a memorable example – and as for the goalkeeper at the other fancied club this season, Joe Hart has a blooper real as long as the Harry Potter films combined and was a significant factor in England’s dismal European showing this summer.
The truth is, even the best make mistakes. Even, whisper it, Manuel Neuer.
We welcomed Petr Cech as our saviour last season, yet he cost us arguably both goals in that opening game, with the crucial opening goal especially poor. There were other performances too, which drew attention for all the wrong reasons, as his judgment of his near post came under significant scrutiny.
Szczesny had a similarly up and down season at Roma, with a strong start derailed by injury, but a run of performances at the end of the season to rival his form two seasons ago when he won the Premier League golden glove.
Speaking to the editor of Roma Press earlier, his view was that our Polish stopper was crucial during Roma’s unbeaten run in the second half of the season, saving all three points against Sampdoria for the Giallorossi. However, he also had some remarks which will feel familiar to Arsenal fans too: He’s a very good goalkeeper but he needs to work harder and elevate his mentality – he can be too immature.
But as we’ve already established, that maturity can only come with time. It’s a huge factor in why keepers blossom so much later than their outfield counterparts, typically – and two seasons at a top Italian club will do Szczesny no harm at all.
In some ways, it’s a blessing in disguise for him to go out on loan. It allows him to work on that maturity without tarnishing his reputation at his parent club, and it allows us to benefit from Petr Cech’s final peak years without worrying about Szczesny agitating in the background.
While Roma have a new competing goalkeeper in the shape of highly-rated Brazilian Alisson, it’s unlikely the 23-year-old signed from Internacional this summer will take too much game time from the Arsenal man, so it’s simply a chance for him to play for a great team, a great club, in a situation where the pressure is on to compete for the title.
I suggested, when we signed him, that Cech probably had two to three years left at the top level, so by the end of the upcoming season that’ll see him entering the final year or so of his peak. It’s pretty much the perfect time for Wojciech to return to the fold, potentially understudy for a month or two and pick up the reigns over the course of next season.
Szczesny’s contract is up in two years, so there’s probably a good chance we’ll see him run it into those final twelve and possibly final six months as he assesses whether he has managed to reclaim the number one positional to match the shirt he has never relinquished.
Based on his talent, it will be a sad turn of events if he isn’t able to add that mental aspect to his game and kick on to mix it with the very best.