Wojciech Szczesny Is Finally Realising His Potential at Arsenal

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal celebrates after Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (not pictured) scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Arsenal are able to thank a lot of things for their fast start to this season. They are benefiting from a reinvigorated striker who muddled his way though a tough debut campaign and a midfielder finally shaking off the injury rust.

The Gunners can also thank an upturn in form from mercurial young goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The ultra-confident stopper, who has always possessed the physical talent but lacked the temperament, is finally realising his potential at Arsenal.

This is an endorsement coming from one of his most consistent critics. I have been among those who have lobbied for Arsenal to seek a more assured presence between the posts.

That was been borne out of Szczesny's penchant for lapses in concentration and an often too casual demeanour. Those foibles created a habit for costly errors that saw manager Arsene Wenger bench Szczesny in the latter stages of last season.

Only a rib injury suffered by fellow Poland international Lukasz Fabianski allowed Szczesny back into the fold. The cocksure 23-year-old has seized the opportunity and is fast becoming the goalkeeper his potential always promised.

Expectations have always been high, maybe even a little too high, for Szczesny at Arsenal. He entered the team at a time when fans had grown weary of calamitous goalkeeping performances.

The hapless Manuel Almunia and Fabianski's own catalogue of errors had cost Arsenal too many times. The clamour for an experienced, proficient stopper was so audible it was almost deafening.

Then, one night in December 2010, Arsenal were scheduled to travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. The big team news was that a teenager would be tending goal for the Gunners.

Szczesny was thrust into action due to injuries. Much like he did toward the end of last season, Szczesny seized his moment and claimed the No. 1 shirt.

He was outstanding at Old Trafford, even in a 1-0 defeat. He consistently denied Wayne Rooney, and Arsenal finally had the 'keeper they needed.

At least that's how the story was supposed to go. But gradually over the next two-and-a-half seasons, Szczesny displayed a tendency to switch off at the worst times.

His technique standing up to long shots was a mess, and the recklessness of youth created Szczesny's own history of high-profile mistakes.

Wenger grew tired of his young goalkeeper's casual ways and ditched him. But the manager will be delighted he resisted the calls to replace him altogether this summer.

That's because Szczesny is at last producing some real consistency. From a physical standpoint, Szczesny is a match for any goalkeeper in the game.

He has the height, agility, reflexes and speed of reaction that defines the very best at his position. Technically, he has not always been the best. But improvement in this area can be taught, and for once, it appears as though Szczesny is willing to listen.

In fact, he is fast becoming what all managers covet. Namely, a goalkeeper who is more than just a solid citizen, but a custodian defiant enough to actually earn his team points during a long campaign.

He did exactly that during a pair of 1-0 wins last season. The first actually came shortly before his suspension, a narrow away triumph over Sunderland in February.

With Arsenal down to 10 and holding a slender advantage, Szczesny made two awesome saves to deny striker Steven Fletcher and directly earn Arsenal three points.

Fast forward to early May, and Szczesny cemented his post-suspension progress with a stunning stop to deny Loic Remy and Queens Park Rangers, preserving a critical 1-0 win.

That victory helped Arsenal take a step closer to snaring fourth place and another season of UEFA Champions League football.

This season Szczesny is preserving points that are helping Arsenal maintain an early assault on the English Premier League title. The latest example came in the recent 2-0 away win over Crystal Palace.

The Gunners were again a man short and holding a one-goal lead. Szczesy just about denied one long drive with a faint touch to tip the ball over the bar. But his best was yet to come.

After taking a chance to punch clear a corner, Szczesny seemed certain to be beaten by a precise and thunderous volley from midfielder Mile Jedinak.

But Szczesny reacted superbly, despite backtracking and the shot arrowing through a crowd.

Although Palace had been hustling and pressing for most of the game, Szczesny had not been especially busy. Yet, he sprung into action when needed. So much for those pesky lapses in concentration.

That clutch contribution was the mark of a goalkeeper ready to join the ranks of the elite.

Szczesny is improving at both club and international level.
Szczesny is improving at both club and international level./Getty Images

It was a fitting way to end a great month for Szczesny. On the international scene, he was magnificent for Poland, even in defeat against England at Wembley.

Szczesny is no longer the conceited and erratic youngster you wanted to, but could never completely, trust. He is now an increasingly dependable and assured figure playing with the right amount of confidence, even if his swagger levels sometimes need capping.

Having a settled back four in front of him has definitely helped, even if the Gunners have kept a mere two clean sheets in the EPL. But the real credit for his turnaround belongs to Szczesny.

He has rebounded from his benching to reward Wenger's patience. Whatever happens to Arsenal this season, they should be able to count on strong performances from their budding young star between the posts.


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