Arsene Wenger gave a shock start to Wojciech Szczesny in the high profile encounter against Manchester United amidst a hostile crowd at Old Trafford. Lukasz Fabianski was reported to be struggling with a leg injury but was surprisingly named among the substitutes while Szczesny started the game.
Manuel Almunia was snubbed in favour of the two young Poles and though he has declared himself to be fit, it is unlikely that Arsene Wenger will open the door for him unless an unlikely scenario of injuries to both the Polish keepers occurs. But the Spaniard who wants to play regularly at his age is likely to move on to any other club considering his future with the Gunners is very questionable.
Wenger has backed Spaniard to a great extent but finally, his patience has run out after horrendous mistakes by Almunia against West Bromwich Albion cost them the three points which could yet prove decisive in the title race. Almunia has got good reflexes and is a decent shot stopper but has trouble controlling his area and his decision making has led him to make several costly errors.
Almunia's performances over the years has drawn a lot of criticism from the supporters and it is rather amazing that he has got such a long run with the Gunners. His performances for Arsenal could be summed up by one match against Barcelona at the Emirates.
In the first half, he was exceptionally good producing numerous good saves which an Arsenal supporter thought was beyond his capacity. But in the second half, he was caught in no man's land allowing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to lob it for an easy goal. He is a decent goalkeeper, but his errors have cost Arsenal a lot of points and he is surely not a goalkeeper for any of the top European teams.
Vito Mannone had a short stint within the sticks in the last season and though he did make a couple of errors, there was enough to suggest that the Italian youngster had good potential.
However, he has been frustrated due to lack of opportunities and has been sent out on loan to Hull City. His frustration is also because of the rise of Szczesny above him in the pecking order which guarantees him very less playing time.
This effectively leaves the two Polish Internationals, Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski to compete for the first team place with youngster James Shea being the third choice goalkeeper for the season. In this article, I would like to analyse which of the two goalkeepers should be the first choice keeper.
Fabianski was signed from Legia Warsaw after a string of good performances for the club and looked set for a promising future at the Emirates. However, ever since the thrashing at the hands of Tottenham in the 5-1 thrashing, he has not had the same confidence although his recent performances suggest that he is close to his best form.
He had a disastrous last season where his presence in goal caused nervousness amongst the Arsenal faithful and his clangers led him to be amongst the most maligned players in the club.
However, he has shown good mental resilience to put his error-strewn last season behind and concentrate on this season. He has utilised his opportunities well and has put in some assured performances in many games like the ones against Everton, Wolverhampton and Manchester City.
He has got very good reflexes and is an excellent shot-stopper. His distribution has improved considerably and he is starting to provide the necessary confidence to his defence. His calmness between the sticks has provided an assured presence for Arsenal.
He is not very comfortable dealing with crosses and has proved to be suspect in the past when he has been targeted. It has been a strategy effectively used in the past by Blackburn, Stoke and Wigan and could prove a liability when faced against physical teams. Also, he does not command the defence too well and has to cope with a lot of pressure because of his errors in the past.
Wojciech Szczesny was allowed to train with the first team at Legia Warsaw at the age of 15, which shows the potential of the youngster. Arsenal then signed the youngster who progressed to the reserves. He did impress in the reserves before he was signed on loan by Brentford.
It is at Brentford that he caught the eye of everyone at Arsenal with Arsene Wenger going on to say that he had the quality to be the no.1 goalkeeper in the future.
Szczesny was a star performer for Brentford and the manager had glowing words for the youngster who got a standing ovation from the crowd for his performances.He did not want to go out on loan again and wanted to establish himself at Arsenal under the tutelage of Wenger. He did voice his concerns at not getting enough opportunities to prove his calibre at Arsenal, which made supporters think he might leave the club.
Which of the Polish youngsters should start the game against Stoke City?
However, he did sign a new contract and has got some games under his belt. He has started in three games in this season. Against Newcastle United in the Carling Cup, he made one error when he came forward and missed the ball but on the whole, it was a very good performance which included a couple of impressive saves as well.He did not have much to do against Wigan.
The confident youngster has always been eager to play for the first team but even he would not have expected to make his Premier League debut against arch rivals Manchester United.
He did let in his first goal for the Arsenal first team but it was as impressive a debut as it can get. He made a world class save against Anderson from point blank range which was remarked by some commentators as "Schmeichel-ish." He was also very alert and was comfortable in handling crosses and might be just the goalkeeper that Arsenal needs at the moment.
His huge frame in goal allows him to cover the goal effectively and has got very good reflexes. He looks to be commanding and does not seem to be nervous on the big stage. He is comfortable dealing with crosses and does come out of his line to deal with dangerous balls into the box.
He possesses good physique,cannot be easily targeted by opposition and looks to be a good handler with the ball. He is eager to impress and has immense confidence in his abilities.
His inexperience is the biggest factor against him being the first team goalkeeper. He has not played any big games apart from the United game and could feel the pressure on big occasions. Also, a mistake might cause him to lose his nerve and could falter because of his inexperience. His distribution was not great and his kicking is slightly suspect but there does not seem to be an apparent weakness with the youngster.
Wenger's Conundrum with respect to the Keepers
Lukasz Fabianski has made a strong case this season and it would be rather unfair on him if he is dropped on the basis of Szczesny's performance against Manchester United. Fabianski has emerged a stronger man as a result of the scars inflicted on him by his errors in the last season. However, the feeling lingers that Fabianski might make a mistake which could cost them the game.
However, it might be too early to thrust Szczesny as the regular no.1 keeper as well. He has only played four matches for the first team and the general feeling with regard to goalkeepers is that they get better with maturity and Wenger will have to decide whether Szczesny is mature enough to be the no.1 keeper.
In my opinion, Szczesny should keep his place in the side for the Stoke game at the Emirates which could be a real test of his calibre. Fabianski was targeted by the Potters in the FA Cup tie and he did not have a good game.
There is a good chance that they will employ the same strategy and his previous performances could prove a mental block for Fabianski. However, Szczesny is fresh from a good performance and is eager to prove his credentials as a top-level goalkeeper. It would be a bold decision from Wenger to install Szczesny ahead of Fabianski but it would not be a bad one in my opinion.