Last season Arsenal's title challenge collapsed due to injuries and horrendous goalkeeping on the part of the club's two keepers, Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. During the summer there was a huge call for Arsene Wenger to buy a new goalkeeper. Despite this Wenger chose to stick with his current crop of keepers and persisted with Almunia and Fabianski for another season. Arsenal fans expected the worst, as there was a sense of impending doom heading into the season with the same set of keepers.
After the first five matches of the season, Almunia seemed to be justifying Wenger's decision as he put in solid performances and looked confident. But he reverted back to form in a horrid performance against West Brom. Arsenal suffered a shock 3-2 defeat as Almunia was to blame for two of West Brom's goals.
In that very same match, Almunia picked up a mysterious elbow injury that has sidelined him until now. During his absence, Wenger promoted Fabianski as the new No. 1. For Arsenal fans, this was a nightmare as images of "Flappyhandski" dropping crosses and letting in goal after goal came to mind. Fabianski's first match was a 3-1 win over Partizan Belgrade. In that match, there were glimpses of his potential with a solid performance that involved a saved penalty.
His first league start was against league leaders Chelsea. Arsenal would lose that match 2-0, but Fabianski put in a solid and assured performance as he saved many shots. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and has put in several solid displays. This season Fabianski has proved that with a bit of faith and when his confidence is high, he is capable of becoming a world-class keeper.
Fabianski's handling has been confident, dealing with crosses in an assured manner. Even against physically intimidating sides like Birmingham, he has looked at ease, calm and composed. His distribution and punching seems to have improved greatly. He is no longer tentative while dealing with the aerial threat and has a strong and powerful punch to back it up too. Even the Arsenal defense seems to have confidence in the Pole.
For the past couple of seasons, it has become a regular occurrence for Arsenal to throw away games due to costly errors from their goalkeepers. But this year, Fabianski has saved Arsenal at least five points. He was mammoth in the games against Wolves, Manchester City, Everton and Fulham. Against Wolves, he repelled many attacks and single-handedly kept Arsenal in the match. It was his presence of mind that helped Arsenal score the decisive second against a resolute Wolves side.
Having a solid keeper at the back can do a world of good for the defense. They play better and are more assured if they have the backing of a strong keeper. Fabianski's only mistake has come against Newcastle, but that wasn't entirely his fault.
Despite his good showing, several people including Arsenal fans still continue to criticise him, calling for Wenger to buy a new keeper. Fabianski may not be perfect, but as recent performances have shown, when the faith is bestowed on him he is more than capable of rising to the occasion and delivering the goods.
Doubts remain in the minds of certain people, when taking into consideration his performance last season. But this season, he has been consistent and all the criticism is totally uncalled for. Like Gomes proved at Tottenham, keepers may have a few poor seasons but if given the backing can shine and perform at the top level.
I am still baffled why fans are still calling for his removal. After all he hasn't cost us any games. It's time for Arsenal fans to realise the value and potential of the Pole. He has proved that he is capable of becoming a world-class keeper and recent performances are more than enough to silence his critics.
This article along with others can also be read at Sportsbuzz, a new blog created by me.