Someone, please fork out £16 million
Of all the Arsenal transfer rumors doing the rounds of late, this has to be one of the most ludicrous.
"France keeper Lloris will cost Arsenal £16m," screams the Daily Mail. Seriously, have they run out of stories? Or do they really think us football fans are completely devoid of intelligence?
Let's put the debate on the club's need for a keeper on the back burner for the moment.
First of all, £16 million for a keeper? At Arsenal? Is Harry Redknapp our new manager? Or Kenny Dalglish? Does anyone out there really believe that the financial genius—yes, "genius," not "Scrooge"—that is Arsene Wenger will spend anything remotely close to £16 million on a goalkeeper? When he's never spent that much on anybody?
So, whether or not we need a new keeper—and I'll get to that—Arsenal are definitely not spending that much.
Lyon—Lloris's current club—president Jean-Michel Aulas had this to say (per the Daily Mail):
"Hugo told me he would like to leave if an offer comes in from one of the biggest five clubs in Europe. If one of these clubs makes an offer that matches his market value, in other words 20m (£16m) Euros then he can go. If there is no offer before July 15 he will remain at the club for the coming season. For the moment there has been no offer from Arsenal or anywhere else."
Well, all I'll say is thank you, sir, for considering us one of Europe's top five clubs, but you ain't getting no offer from Arsenal, that's for sure.
Who should Arsenal's number one be next season?
Now to discuss the need for a new keeper.
Do excuse my bias, but Wojciech Szczesny is my current favourite Gunner. Has been since he got a shock debut at Old Trafford. He is technically excellent, never short on confidence and has an endearing "human" side to him that makes him hard to dislike.
He's only 22, been at Arsenal for six years already and based on what we've seen so far, is definitely a massive improvement on his immediate predecessors, Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. And while that's not saying much, I believe he can go on to be an Arsenal great and one of the top three or four keepers in the world.
Two reasons why I say this.
Firstly, his confidence/arrogance. Without being disdainful or above criticizing himself, Szczesny believes he is good. He believes that he will prevail over the opposing striker.
He does not brood over his failures, but at the same time, he analyzes his performances and evaluates where he can improve.
His post-debut tweet couldn't be better evidence of this: "Tomorrow I will learn to kick the ball beyond the half way line -apologies for my distribution and the result at Old Trafford." Brilliant!
Secondly, his level of concentration. The hallmark of a great keeper is not his shot-stopping ability. Almunia is a great shot-stopper. I vividly remember blinders against Manchester United and Barcelona, where he withstood a relentless barrage of shots on his goal.
The true sign of a great keeper, more so one at a top club that has the lion's share of possession and chances, is the ability to make a great save after a period of complete inactivity. If we look at the great keepers of our times, each of them has had this quality—Iker Casillas, Gigi Buffon, Oliver Kahn, David Seaman, Peter Schmeichel, Edwin van der Sar.
I can remember quite a few occasions last season when Szczesny, left exposed by his defence after a period of Arsenal dominance, was required to make important saves. And he did.
Now to Lloris, and the scenario of having him at Arsenal—assuming Wenger falls on his head and stumps up £16 million.
The French keeper is only 25—for some reason, I thought he was much older—and is at the top of his game. He is first-choice for club and country. And he is his national team's captain. So this is no average Joe we're talking about.
If he does come to Arsenal, it will not be to sit on the bench, or to fight for a first-team place. It will be to wear the No. 1 jersey. I think this is beyond debate.
While Szczesny may not be at Lloris's level today, I have no reason to doubt that he'll get there soon. I know there are multiple schools of thought on this, but I don't think he was to blame for a vast majority of Arsenal's goals conceded last season. He was left exposed far too often by his defence, who did him no favours whatsoever.
And I'm not sure if you noticed, but Arsenal improved drastically in terms of goals conceded from set-pieces. While I'm certain that a lot of work was done on the training ground, one could not have missed the regular sight of our keeper organising the defence and being a real dominant force in the area.
And finally, with keepers being the nutty bunch they are, it would be suicidal to have two crazy forces like Lloris and Szczesny battling for one spot. I can't envisage either of them being content with Capital One—the new "Carling"—and FA Cup appearances alone.
So in conclusion, while I'm not denying the outstanding credentials of Lloris, he isn't a player Arsenal need. Goalkeeping is not a position where we need strengthening. We need an experienced backup keeper, not someone who will compete with Szczesny for the first-team spot. And we certainly need some strengthening elsewhere.
Some argue that it's better to have real competition for places. Well, that's absolutely true, except when it comes to keeping. Backup keepers are never subbed on—unless there's an injury or red card—so they will rarely get an opportunity to make an impression. Szczesny played every minute in the league last year.
Uncertainty and discord in the keepers club is never a good thing. One only needs to look at Manchester United and David De Gea's improvement in form after he was firmly established as the No. 1.
For Arsenal, I'm more than happy with our Pole between the sticks.