April 18, 2009 and January 24, 2010 are two days "Wookash" Fabianski dreads to recall, even though the former date is the Pole’s birthday.
It has something to do with the fact that on those two days, Arsenal was shown the exit sign and asked to unceremoniously leave the FA Cup. They were days that the young goalkeeper had "howlers" that any professional sportsman would want to forget very quickly.
A mad rush of blood to the head from Wookash gifted an empty net to Drogba last April, and at the Britannia a few weeks ago, he wised up to the folly of waiting for a Rory Delap throw to come to him.
Let’s face it—keeping goal is a thankless job. More often than not, the keeper spends long periods doing nothing constructive and requires constant discipline and focus to keep up with the game around them.
The problem for goalies is that the mistakes they make or momentary lapses of judgement almost certainly end up with them picking the ball from the back of the net. Also, in this media savvy age where cameras cover every nook and cranny on the pitch, the actions or inactions of the goalkeeper are easily amplified.
If Bob Wilson was keeping goal for Arsenal today, and he had the howler that led to the goal at his near post in the 1971 Cup final, Wilson would have had to go into exile, for the sky cameras would have made is life a misery.
Goalkeeping seems to be a subject that divides many observers when it comes to the Arsenal. I don’t recall it being that much of an issue in the past times of Lehmann, Seaman (who was the goalie that I most identified with), Jennings or Wilson.
There’s a cliché often used that says a good goalkeeper can save you at least 12 points a season, and Almunia doesn’t seem to jump out of the page for some when it comes to Arsenal goalkeepers. Off the top of my head, I can think of three point-saving interventions that Almunia made in 2010: when Denilson collapsed, and Everton had a one-on-one with him; saving Agbonlahor’s shot across goal at the match against Villa on Jan. 27; and his fingertip save of Ryan Babel’s shot last week against Liverpool.
All of those saves prevented Arsenal from losing or drawing a match and gained us points in that respect. Even so, it’s more than likely that Almunia’s transgressions will be the more amplified. It’s those mistakes that end up with us conceding goals.
Fabianski has had his high-profile moments to impress, and he has shown signs of a great goalkeeper—and signs of poor judgement on occasion. This is not uncommon for a 24-year-old goalkeeper, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that some things will only come with experience. Good judgement is one of those aspects that will only develop with time and mileage on the pitch.
For the record, I think Fabianski is a very good keeper and will become one of the best keepers in the world. You can see this when he has a good game—the way he commands the box and marauds around like he owns that piece of real estate within the box; the way he comes for crosses and sweeps behind his defensive high line; and his general presence in the box.
What has eluded him so far is the consistency in good decision making. His individual skill and agility is not in question. The only way we’re going to find out if Wookash is really the answer to Arsenal’s goalkeeping dilemma is to let him get on with it.
Some may argue that he’s not yet there and needs some more experience, but short of farming him out on loan at the risk of not having a second choice keeper—Wenger seems to be convinced that the Pole is a good enough understudy to Almunia.
The manager has certainly gone out of his way to pump up Wookash by waxing lyrical about his ability to hold the fort. Definitely good people management and confidence building skills on the part of the manager.
My sense is that if the team defends properly as a unit, and each person takes his responsibility seriously, it will make the life of a goalkeeper a hell of a lot easier. There will be times during the game that the keeper is called upon to do something extraordinary, and it’s on those occasions that Wookash can stand up to be counted.
Maybe tonight is a chance to prove that the third time's lucky for him, and he can help propel Arsenal to a good position before the return leg against Porto in three weeks' time.