Wojciech Szczesny Proves Arsenal Don't Need to Waste Time on Victor Valdes
The Catalan ‘keeper’s contract expires at the end of this season, and he has already stated his desire to experience life at a club outside La Liga. For one club, acquiring the Champions League winner on a free transfer will be a huge coup.
However, if Arsenal do miss out on Valdes, they won’t be too disappointed. The early season form of Wojciech Szczesny suggests he is beginning to fulfill his enormous potential.
The 2012/13 season was a difficult campaign for Szczesny. Along with captain Thomas Vermaelen, he was dropped for the second leg of the Champions League tie with Bayern Munich, and only an untimely injury to Lukasz Fabianski allowed him to regain his first-team place.
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Throughout the summer, Arsenal were linked with a succession of renowned goalkeepers, including Brazil’s No. 1 Julio Cesar. However, no high-profile move materialised. Although Arsenal eventually moved for Italian Emiliano Viviano, the hierarchy was clear. To the surprise of some, Szczesny began the season as Arsene Wenger’s starter.
It was not an auspicious start. On the opening day against Aston Villa, Szczesny conceded a penalty as Arsenal were beaten 3-1. The foul wasn’t his greatest misdemeanor, though. On one occasion, he was almost caught out wandering well clear of his goal line. Arsenal fans feared this was the beginning of a return to Szczesny’s erratic form of last season.
Their fears were misplaced.
Since the Villa game, Szczesny has been in fantastic form. In the six matches immediately following the Villa debacle, Szczesny conceded just one goal from open play. In fact, were it not for the many penalties Arsenal have conspired to give away this season, Szczesny would already have seven clean sheets to his name.
It’s not as if Szczesny isn’t being called up. According to Squawka, he makes an average of 2.57 saves per game. However, it’s not just his shot-stopping that has impressed. An incredible 97 percent of his attempts to claim crosses have been successful, too.
Szczesny has learnt how to dominate his penalty box. For a side who have been so vulnerable to set pieces in the past, it’s a huge boon to know they have a goalkeeper who is comfortable coming to claim the ball.
This is a sign of a goalkeeper who is maturing into the finished article. Szczesny is 23 now. Signing the 31-year-old Valdes would dramatically impede his development. If Szczesny continues to improve at this rate, he could be Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper for a decade or more.
Arsene Wenger has praised Olivier Giroud for responding to speculation linking Arsenal with a new striker in the best way possible: by improving his performances on the field.
Szczesny may have grabbed fewer headlines than Giroud, but he deserves just as much credit.
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