This season, Arsenal conceded 37 goals in the Premier League, 10 goals in the Champions League, seven goals in the Capital One Cup and five goals in the FA Cup.
Unlike last season where the Gunners opened the floodgates with consummate ease, a more cautious approach was taken after the defense struggled badly against Tottenham. In a run of 10 games after that defeat against Tottenham, the Gunners conceded only five goals, winning eight games and drawing two.
Over the course of the season, Arsene Wenger used his available playing personnel in the goalkeeping department.
Wojciech Szczesny has been synonymous with first-team football, but an ankle injury in Autumn, coupled with Lukasz Fabianski out of action as well, paved the way for Vito Mannone to strut his stuff, but the Italian didn’t convince Wenger enough to command a first-team berth.
A dip in form from Szczesny in spring saw a fit-again Fabianski take his spot, but another injury allowed the younger Pole to reclaim his spot.
This article is focused on rating Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. This is the first installment of four articles, and today’s piece is entirely focused on Arsenal’s custodians between the sticks.
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With Manuel Almunia leaving the club when his contract expired, Wojciech Szczesny took over the No. 1 jersey and great things were expected of the young Pole working his way up the food chain.
He began the campaign with a clean sheet against Sunderland, and an ankle injury prevented him for a couple of weeks before he returned to the fold with a howler against Southampton.
Even after his errors coupled with fairly average performances from his deputy, Vito Mannone, Wenger returned Szczesny into the team and even used him in domestic cup fixtures, clearly showing that he had little or no faith in the deputy Italian.
This brought an air of complacency into Szczesny’s game which saw his form wane, much to his team’s detriment.
He got a wake-up call when Wenger dropped him to the bench against Bayern Munich (away), and the fact that his father blasted the boss in an interview with Przeglad Sportowy (via Arseblog News) for his poor form didn’t help his cause.
A rib injury to Fabianski allowed the younger Pole to return to first-team action, and this saw a change in his fortunes as Szczesny kept clean sheets against Everton (home), Fulham (away), Queens Park Rangers (away) and Newcastle (away).
While he may want to forget his antics against Southampton (home) and Aston Villa (home), he can look back with pride when he reflects on his performance against Sunderland (away) as well those vital saves he made against Queens Park Rangers (away) and Wigan (home).
Szczesny is not a finished article, but there’s certainly some room for improvement.
Lukasz Fabianski has been a backup goalie for as long as he can remember.
Since his arrival in 2007, despite being the best goalie in the Polish Ekstraklasa for two consecutive seasons in his time with Legia Warsaw, Fabianski has played second fiddle to Manuel Almunia, and currently, his compatriot, Wojciech Szczesny.
Like Abou Diaby, injuries have become part and parcel of Fabianski’s career with the Gunners, and the meager five appearances he managed in the entire campaign is a testament of that.
Notwithstanding, the Pole has been a breath of fresh air in his somewhat brief return to the squad. When I saw Fabianski step into the Allianz Arena with his teammates, I feared for the worst, but the goalie was in imperious form, saving efforts from Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben, despite being out of the game for over a year.
This was followed with another clean sheet against Swansea (away), and if Nacho Monreal had tracked Hal Robson-Kanu well in the thumping of already relegated Reading, Fabianski would have had three clean sheets in a row.
He went on to concede from a penalty against West Brom (away) and was rooted to the spot when Norwich’s Michael Turner headed the ball past him. He still went on to make a vital save in that game to keep Norwich at bay.
With his current contract expiring this summer, Fabianski will have to review his future with the club. His cameo performances have shown that he can be a dependable goalkeeper, but he needs to back it up with consistency, and at least, staying fit to be available for selection.
Since arriving at Arsenal as far back as 2006, Vito Mannone has still failed to convince anybody that he has what it takes to be the custodian between the sticks for a top side like Arsenal.
This season, injuries to Szczesny and Fabianski paved the way for the big Italian to stake his claim for a first-team berth, and clean sheets against Stoke (away) and Liverpool (away) must have done wonders to his confidence.
He was wrongly benched for Szczesny against Southampton (home) and conceded from a penalty on his return to the first team when the Gunners played Montpellier (away).
When he was tested against bigger opposition, he failed to impress as he was caught in "No Man’s Land" when he came to claim a cross against Manchester City (away), allowing Joleon Lescott to score an unguarded net.
His performance against Chelsea (home) didn’t inspire confidence in his back line.
Despite the fact that Thomas Vermaelen's clumsiness played a role in both fouls that led to Chelsea’s goals, Mannone should have done better in both set pieces, as he failed to dominate his area in Fernando Torres’ goal. He was caught out as Juan Mata’s free kick from Planet Jupiter crept into his net.
While he could be blameless for all goals conceded against Schalke 04 in both legs, he gave his manager a cause for concern when he failed to deal with a cross against West Ham (away), allowing Andy Carroll to head the ball narrowly wide.
In my honest opinion, Mannone is a decent goalkeeper, but I don’t feel that he has a long-term future with the club. It would do him some good if he seeks a move elsewhere, where he doesn’t have to be under the radar all the time.
So there you have it, the first of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the defense comes up next.