I must process to you, dear friend, that when Wojciech Szczesny first started to break into the Arsenal team, I thought we had a goalkeeper for life, if not at least the next ten years.
He appeared to have all of the correct attributes to make it as one of the best. He was at one of the best teams in the country, he had good aerial and shot-stopping ability and had that certain prowess that all great goalkeepers possess. At such a young age and in to the team, he also had time on his side to get better and better every year. He displaced a hollow and confidence shorn Almunia and we all loved his cockiness.
So in this post season review today, focused on the goalkeepers, I find myself pondering what the future lies for the Pole.
He started the season as the number one and, with a personal scare of losing his place to Fabianski very real last season but wrestled back after hard work and being given a chance due to the other Pole’s injury, Szczesny got himself back on the right path. We all thought this season would be different to last, didn’t we? None of us expected the same questions to arise of his attitude as they did in 13/14, did we? But even when they did, even when his form dipped in December (save for an excellent performance against West Hamover the Christmas period), I’m sure many of us thought it would only be a matter of time before her resume his role in between the sticks as the number one.
It just didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because David Ospina came in and, quite frankly, didn’t do a lot wrong. When you couple that with the form that the whole team found itself in during January, February and March, it all made the move back in goal a difficult one for Woj.
He didn’t exactly help himself with ‘Smokegate’ at St Mary’s in January, but I don’t think that had as much of an impact as some would suggest. Sure, it would have irked Wenger and sure he would have no doubt have dropped him initially from the team as a result, but Arsène will have come across situations of ill-discipline probably every season since he joined Arsenal. I’ll bet there have been some worse examples than smoking in a shower, that’s for sure, so I don’t see that as clear motive for prolonged change.
It’s his attitude that had come under the biggest scrutiny. I find this interesting, because I don’t know a single Arsenal fan that I spoke to two years ago that would have said that they found his rumoured arrogance distasteful and a key reason why he cannot be a long-term solution. Yet here we are, in the middle of 2015, with a selection of the fan add suggesting that we have a man who needs to go so we can get somebody else in. Somebody with the right attitude and winning mentality.
(I hasten to add that I’m playing devils advocate for that question)
Do we need a replacement for Szczesny because we need somebody with a better attitude, somebody who can kick us on to the Premier League title? Of do we need somebody that is just a better goalkeeper all round? Is that the real question? I think it is. I think the availability of a few goalkeepers this summer (not just Cech, but Casillas and Begovic are all supposedly available) has accelerated the desire to see change and the dropping of Szczesny and so called attitude problems and indiscipline are just conveniently timed for those who want change this summer. Change from outside because the other solution hasn’t quite worked 100%.
Which segues me nicely into David Ospina, who I think can be pretty happy with his first season at the club, not least because he had case study examples in Fabianski and specifically Emiliano Viviano who have spent vast amounts of a season on the bench with only sporadic games in cup competitions (or none at all in the case of the Italian). So to essentially wrestle the starters gloves from Szczesny and to keep them for the rest of the season should be applauded.
Except he’s not being applauded, is he? Doubts still remain about the Colombian and they seem to be doubts across a lot of the fanbase. Those doubts have hardly been expunged by a couple of slightly wobbly performances at the end of the season. Questions have been raised about his ability to come for crosses and indeed, if Ospina were in goal for the West Ham game at Christmas, might the result have finished differently? All hypothetical I know, but the questions are being asked whether, as we now look to mounting a challenge for the Premier League, he would be capable of being our ‘New Lehman’. I’m not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a good ‘keeper and deserves to have another season to develop in the league and improve on his English too (let’s not forget how important communication is for a goalkeeper), but can we rely on Ospina to save us points like De Gea has done so this year? I’m not so sure.
So this summer is one of hard decisions for Arsène. Indeed, I personally feel that the squad is that strong now that we could go in to next season without any changes in personnel and we would be closer to Chelski than the final points tally suggested, but what to do about the ‘keepers? Are there better goalkeepers that are available this summer who could improve our team and bring more than our existing crop? If the answer is ‘yes’, then that is when Arsène has to make a tough call and probably offload one of the current two.
I believe there are better ‘keepers available. But does Arsène?