Ten seconds I was away from getting my train this morning. The driver knew I was there and he could have opened the doors, but these TFL jobs-worths probably take some sort of sick pleasure in the annoyance of the commuters that pay their salaries, the bar stewards.
Anyway, my public transportation issues are not why you’re here, and it certainly isn’t the reason I do this shizzle every day. I’m here to talk about all things Arsenal and, by Jove (not a reference to the Fiorentina player, calm down people!), that’s what I’ll do. I could talk about the impending arrival of Sanogo but as I type this first thing on a Wednesday morning there is no deal to speak of and so no point in speculating.
It’s in the world of goalkeepers is where I wants to be today, and most specifically, Arsenal goalkeepers. I think it’s fair to say that in Arsene’s tenure as Arsenal manager he’s hardly found it easy pickings finding decent stoppers in between the sticks and this season has also been a challenging one for our last line of defence. Arsene inherited Seaman, Manninger didn’t really step up, Jens was a good signing but we only really had him for a few seasons, Almunia was never really a number one (in my humble opinion) and Fabianski looked shakier than than a Harry Redknapp tax defence in court. Yet along came this young, confident and bolshy whipper snapper with a name I’ve since spent a couple of years practising, to make us Gooners believe that we’d found a number one for the next 15 years.
Wojciech Szczesny has been able to make the step up and has, up until this season, been questioned in terms of his ability by few Gooners, leading to many last season believe that Arsene had finally found a long-term solution. But this season has seen old fears rear their ugly head. Some slightly suspect performances, question marks over his kicking and a general lack of form at the beginning of this year led many of us to wonder if Woj would go the way of Fawlty Manuel and decline to an extent that he wouldn’t make the first team next season. Arsene had to act, and act he did; Szczesny was dropped for Fabianski and the Pole managed to string together a strong of competent performances that kept his younger challenger on the bench for a number of weeks.
You may think me harsh to call Fabianski’s displays ‘competent’, but in my mind that is all they were. He made a couple of confident catches against Munich and pulled off a couple of smart saves, but as I reflect on his overall stint in the team, I think only that what he did was what we should expect in a Premier League ‘keeper. Perhaps that just goes to show you where we are at as fans; we’re so used to seeing some calamity ‘keeping, that any kind of solid display is elevated to a level as being seen to be good. I have nothing against Lukas, but I have never been convinced by him and to me he has all the hallmarks of a good number two (stop sniggering at the back). He’s just like Almunia in that respect. Manuel should never have been given the number one jersey. Even at his peak, he only ever did what he was supposed to. He’d save shots you’d expect him to save, miss goals you wouldn’t expect him to save, nothing more or less. To me, that’s where you get the world class ‘keepers. That’s where you see the cream rise to the top. Cech at his peak used to be like that – I had a mate that called him ‘Nightcrawler’ because he’d appear at the corner of the goal to make a save nobody expected him to get to.
I think Szczesny has that about him. We’ve already seen it at times this season. Just think back to the recent save at QPR from Remy. I don’t think that is something Almunia or Fabianski would have got to. Perhaps it was complacency that led to him to feel his place in the team was guaranteed, but what Arsene did by dropping him earlier this year was a master stroke, as it proved the perfect incentive to spurn the younger Pole on to win his place back. It was a jolt to the system for Woj and he reacted exactly how us fans want to see a player reacting to being dropped; he sharpened his game, played an important role in capturing fourth spot, and now looks to have re-established his position as the clubs number one.
As you can tell, I rate Szczesny, I really do. I think he has all of the credentials to be one of the best in the world, but he needs to be challenged, which is why I hope the club bring in an experienced ‘keeper in the summer. I think there needs to be genuine competition for that jersey and that Fabianski provided merely a quick adrenaline shot. His place as first choice ‘keeper was designed purely as a hygiene factor to encourage Wojciech to step up to the plate. And if you know you’re A-Level Business Studies, you’ll know that Herzberg’s hygiene factors rarely kept people motivated for any prolonged period of time. So my hope for this position in the summer is that we get in a really good experienced 30+ goalkeeper that can spend a few years challenging Woj to establish himself as a clear and definite number one in the Arsenal team. I have no idea who fits this bill and it’s not my job to know, just to support, but as an amateur Football Manager (I have the handheld version on my iPhone and I’ve guided little known German team Babelsberg to the Champions League spaces dontcha know!) I would say that somebody like Julio Cesar would be a good choice. The only question mark would be around how many gold doubloons were waved in front of him to join QPR last summer and whether he’d be expecting the same level of exorbitant cash to play as a squad player for Arsenal. There’s been talk of Rene Adler and from what little I have seen of him that would be a good signing, but I would expect he would be seen more as a replacement for Szczesny rather than a player to challenge and improve the young Pole. Personally, I’d rather we focused on developing him than finding an alternative, because I think he can be better than anything out there that we could buy. But we shall wait and see what Arsene fancies doing with his spending money this summer. Will he stick with his young Poles, will he look to motivate the youngest of the two and being in an experienced pair of hands, or will he twist with a new number one?
If I was to give a mark out of 10 for our goalkeeping this season, I’d call it a 6. At times we’ve looked ok – particularly for the last 10 games, but it is clear there is room for improvement.