Position : Goalkeeper
Nation : Poland
2011/2012 Appearances : 48
Young. Confident. Brash. Call him what you wish, but Wojciech Szczesny has emerged as one of the hottest goal-keeping prospects in the world of football. In a time when Manchester United have invested vast amounts of money in acquiring the services of young Spaniard David de Gea, from Atletico Madrid, Szczesny was bought to London as a bright 16 year old boy in 2006.
After the departure of Jens Lehmann, the Gunners have failed to have a steady pair of hands between the sticks. Manuel Almunia was prone to errors far too often, while Fabianski seemed ineffective. Szczesny pounced on his chances last season and has gone on to make the goalkeeper position his own. Let’s have a look at his season thus far.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties have been exposed ruthlessly this season. 49 goals conceded in the league, for a team finishing 3rd is rather, unacceptable. This can be owed more to an ever changing backline rather that goalkeeping howlers.
Arsenal started off the season in disastrous fashion. An uninspiring draw against Newcastle was followed by a narrow win over Italian side Udinese. 2 offside goals were conceded against Liverpool. In the second leg against Udinese, Szczesny put in a brilliant performance, and saved an Antonio di Natale penalty, as the Gunners advanced to the group stages 3-1 on aggregate.
However, Szczesny’s nightmarish afternoon was to unravel at Old Trafford, as Manchester United punished a makeshift Arsenal defence, by scoring 8 goals. The less talked about this, the better, as everything seemed to be going the way of the Red Devils. Everything they pulled off, worked.
Arsenal drew in Dortmund, thanks to a late Ivan Perisic screamer. Probably, Szczesny should have done better, but a late save from Lewandowski meant Arsenal left with a draw. Arsenal suffered a 4-3 loss at Blackburn, which was rather an experiment at zonal marking. It clearly didn’t work, and 2 own goals were conceded.
Szczesny was partly at fault at Tottenham’s winner in the North London derby in October. Kyle Walker’s shot was from quite a distance, and an experienced goalkeeper would have gauged it better. Another aspect which Szczesny has struggled with, is free-kicks. He was beaten twice by Wayne Rooney, and again by Sebastian Larsson. However, he redeemed himself with some vital stops in games against Sunderland, Stoke, Chelsea and Norwich.
Arsenal overall kept some decent form till January, where they lost all 3 of their league games. Two late goals from Fulham, a 3-2 loss at Swansea, and a home defeat to Manchester United were the results in January. February saw the rise of Arsenal in the league. A nervy draw at Bolton, where Szczesny nearly conceded a penalty late on, was followed by a 7-1 mauling of Blackburn. Again, however, Szczesny was beaten by a Pedersen free-kick. A late win was sealed at Sunderland, before Arsenal travelled to Italy to play Milan.
Arsenal’s poor defending allowed Milan to score twice. The first was a Boateng screamer, probably unstoppable, which preceded a couple of Robinho tap-ins and an Ibrahimovic penalty. Arsenal regained their form in the league with a 5-2 win over Sp*rs. Szczesny put in a man-of-the-match performance at Anfield, pulling off numerous saves against an adventurous Liverpool. This also included a penalty save off Dirk Kuyt, and a rebound save thereafter. Unfortunately, for the Pole, a certain Dutchman stole all the headlines.
Szczesny had relatively comfortable games against Milan, Newcastle, Everton and Aston Villa. A loss at QPR marred this run of results, as Taraabt and Diakite scored. He was again rarely troubled in wins over eventual champions Manchester City, and relegated Wolves. Norwich, though did provide some food for thought. A Hoolahan shot was fumbled over by Szcz, while poor positioning defensively, saw Holt’s shot hook off Gibbs to loop over the keeper. Norwich’s third was again poor defensive play, with Szczesny well beaten at his far post. Throughout the game, the Pole appeared nervous and naive, with his distribution, punching and clearances.
So, how exactly has Wojciech Szczesny fared between the posts in his first full season as Arsenal’s number 1? Here are some key points.
1. Shot Stopping
Szczesny is a brilliant shot stopper at times, and has pulled off vital saves all campaign. 49 could be a much larger with a keeper like, say, Almunia.
Though he has rarely come in one-on-one situations, this campaign, he should have a look at the goals conceded against Liverpool earlier this season, against Wigan and Norwich late on in the season, to see how he can position himself better, when the defence is outnumbered by the attack.
Like I mentioned earlier, Szczesny is a good organizer of the defence in front of him, and can be constantly be seen barking orders. His distribution at times though can be a bit sloppy, and needs some working upon.
4. Dead Ball Situations
While he has made some fantastic saves from the spot this season, his decision-making on freekicks leaves a lot to be desired. This is one aspect that can be worked upon, and comes with experience as well.
SUMMARY AND RATING
Goalkeepers are a breed that bloom late, usually in their late 20’s and early 30’s, and in some cases, even in late 30’s. Szczesny has shown a high level of maturity at a very young age, and has even drawn words of praise from German goalkeeping legend, Oliver Kahn, after an international game between Germany and Poland, in which the young Arsenal keeper made a horde of saves. The advantage which Szczcesny has is time. He is still just 21, and already has established himself is the number one of the club. And he says he wants to continue for another 15 years. Having deleted his Twitter account, after a self assessment, which revealed that he was spending too much time on the social networking site, he has vowed to dedicate himself for the cause of the club. And, that’s what Arsenal fans will be hoping for in coming seasons. The fact that he was on painkillers, for the final few games of the season, so as to not miss a game, shows how much Arsene Wenger prefers him over Lukasz Fabianski. As for this season, he deserves a rating of 7.5.