It's "Inside Arsenal Week" at Bleacher Report. On the eve of Arsenal's FA Cup Final at Wembley, we bring you this exclusive interview with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who met me at the London Colney training ground to discuss his form, the final and Lukasz Fabianski.
Bleacher Report: Is this your best season?
Wojciech Szczesny: I’d call it my best season if we end up winning the trophy. I’m not really interested in playing well if it doesn’t bring us silverware. For me, a good season is one that ends with a trophy.
B/R: Would a trophy mean much more than finishing in fourth?
WS: Yeah, definitely. If you asked me whether I’d rather take the FA Cup or play in the Champions League it’d be difficult to answer, but considering our lack of trophies in the last nine years the cup seems a much bigger deal than coming fourth. I wouldn’t call coming fourth a success anyway. It became the most we could achieve, but I would never ever consider coming fourth a trophy before the start of the season.
B/R: You must be happy with your personal development this year, though.
WS: As usual you have your ups and your downs, but overall I’d say it’s been my most consistent season. It’s the second season that I’ve played every single game in the league, which is positive. Avoiding injuries and just playing week in, week out at my age is something I really benefit from, and I can see the improvement. It’s my most consistent season in terms of form, but whether it’s the best one...I’ll call it the best one after Wembley.
B/R: It must have helped to play behind such a consistent defence.
WS: It’s been massive. It’s made it so much easier. Over the last two or three seasons, we had to deal with a lot of injuries at the back and the defence rotating pretty much every single game. There was a time when we had no full-backs available at all, so we had four centre-backs playing. It was difficult.
This year, Kieran [Gibbs] and Nacho [Monreal] have rotated a little bit, but usually it’s been the same back four. I think when you play with the same defence you sort of understand each other’s body language and you read off each other, and it’s much much better. Plus, it’s not only the fact that it’s been a settled back four, but also a very good one—especially Per [Mertesacker] and Laurent [Koscielny] in the middle. They’ve been rock solid defensively—as good as any centre-backs in the league this year.
B/R: Were the two centre-backs a bit unfortunate to miss out on the Team of the Year?
WS: I thought they deserved it. Probably conceding a lot of goals in the big games didn’t help them; how you play in the big games is how you get your reputation. With all respect, people don’t remember you from Hull at home. They remember you from how you play at Chelsea, Man U games—games like that—so I can sort of understand the decision. But I think they more than deserved to be there.
B/R: You mentioned the heavy defeats against the big teams—you played pretty well on those days...
WS: You say I played well, but I conceded six goals. I’d rather have a dodgy game and concede none, as has happened this season. Look, if you have a game where you’re under pressure, obviously there are going to be a lot of shots on target and you’re going to make saves, but you can’t say you played well in a game where you concede five goals. It’s ridiculous.
B/R: What areas of your game do you think you can improve?
WS: There’s plenty of things I can improve. If you asked me three or four years ago I would have told you I was pretty much faultless and there wasn’t a lot I could improve, so I think the maturity and experience of playing the game makes you realise you improve in every single game, and I know I can improve every aspect of my game. I’ve managed to add a level of consistency to my game this season—even if I had an off game, it was only ever for one game. For example, I concede five but then I get back to my clean sheets—that’s been positive. Then I had a period of a few weeks of playing not so well, but I want to improve everything: shot-stopping, distribution, taking crosses. Every single aspect.
B/R: The FA Cup Final is coming up. Do you expect to play?
WS: I would love to play. Do I expect to play? I think it’d be very unfair to say, because I would definitely expect to play if I was in Lukasz’s position. But obviously I would love to play in a cup final; it’s a natural thing. But I understand Lukasz’s position in the club this season, and he’s done very well. Obviously it’s the manager’s decision, but if I was in Lukasz’s position I’d more than expect to play.
B/R: Would it hurt if you don’t play?
WS: It wouldn’t hurt me at all. Purely because I’m sure it would hurt if I was in Lukasz’s position and didn’t play. I think he’s done really well in the cup this season—he was the penalty shootout hero in the semi-final, so you could say he deserves the chance to go on and hopefully help the team win the trophy.
Obviously I’ve not spoken to the boss about it yet. If I’m picked to play I’d be more than happy and proud to do so. From a professional point of view I’d love to play, but from a human point of view I think it’d be fair to play Lukasz.
B/R: How important has it been to have someone like Lukasz pushing you?
WS: Lukasz has been fantastic. We’ve known each other for such a long time. I think the first time we met I was about 14, and Lukasz was 19. He was already playing for the Polish U21s, and I was just making my way into Poland’s U15s, and I used to look at him like a hero. He was technically pretty much perfect—and still is.
I learned a lot from him back then, then obviously we ended up at the same club here, and although obviously I’ve managed to work my way up to the first team and be the No. 1 goalkeeper, he’s never let his attitude drop. He’s very professional; he’s always been prepared to play whenever he was called upon. He’s been a true pro, and he’s really helped me to push my game because I knew he was ready to take my place at any time.
I even found that every time he was fit, my game was much better. Obviously he’s had his injury problems as well, but I’m 24 now and I watch him train now and I still learn a lot from him even though I’m No. 1. I’ve benefited from competing with him a lot.
B/R: Who’s better at saving penalties?
WS: I don’t think you can be better at saving penalties, but he got us through to the final so I’ll have to say him! I’ve only saved one this season, and he’s already saved two.
B/R: Who’s better at taking, then?
WS: I’d go for myself.
B/R: If it came to it, would you take one in a shootout?
WS: I would never volunteer. I probably wouldn’t be afraid to take one, but I’d never volunteer. I don’t think goalkeepers are there to be scoring goals. If I was ever asked, then why not?
B/R: I only ask as, impressively for a keeper, you’ve got the highest dribble rate in the league...
WS: I think it’s 100 percent, isn’t it? Pretty decent! But look, that has nothing to do with penalties. I’d never volunteer...I never prepare to dribble on the pitch, either. Sometimes the situation is there and you do it. If I had to take one, I’d probably put it away in the top corner...but I wouldn’t volunteer.
B/R: You’ve played at Wembley for Arsenal before, in the 2011 Carling Cup Final against Birmingham...
WS: Yeah, I remember that.
B/R: Is that defeat something that you’re keen to put right?
WS: Do you know what? I was. Obviously the Birmingham game was my first Wembley experience, so I really wanted to put it behind me. Fortunately, I got another chance to play at Wembley against England with the Polish national team. There wasn’t a lot of pressure because we’d already been knocked out of the Euro qualifiers by then. We lost the game, but I was happy with my performance. I’ve played at Wembley since—I did well. I’ve managed to put it behind me so I have absolutely no fear of playing there.
B/R: Let’s talk about the selfie against Spurs. The Arsenal fans loved it, but there was some criticism. What motivated you to do it?
WS: I’m a 24-year-old and I enjoy my life, and winning a football game is the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. In the modern world where you share pretty much everything on social media, I wanted to share my happiness with the fans. It’s not something I do in every game—I don’t always take my phone out on the pitch—but I enjoyed myself at the time and I wanted to share it with the fans.
B/R: Was it a particularly special day for you as it involved beating Spurs?
WS: Yes. I think beating them three times this season and not conceding has probably been the highlight of the season. I’d never won at White Hart Lane before, so it was a very enjoyable moment.
B/R: If that was the highlight, what was your biggest disappointment of the season?
WS: Getting sent off against Bayern was probably the lowest moment. But I had a game to play three days later so I could forget about it and focus on the next one, so it wasn’t too long before I got over it.
B/R: After the experience of this season, do you feel confident of launching a more sustained title challenge next year?
WS: Looking at how we did this year before we had some bad luck with injuries, I’m more than confident that we’re capable of winning the championship next year. With more luck and maybe a little bit more consistency at vital times, we could even have done it this year.
The players who are maturing—Aaron [Ramsey], Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain], Jack [Wilshere]—are all getting much better. You’ve got some experience in the team too, with the likes of Per, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. We have a good mixture of experience and young talent that we hope can bring us some success. Hopefully we win the first trophy at the end of this season, and that would give us much more confidence to push on next season for the championship, too.
This interview was conducted by Bleacher Report UK in partnership with Arsenal FC.
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