Arsenal: Has the Rise of Fabianski and Szczesny Ended Their Goalkeeping Problem?
It is often said that a good goalkeeper saves his team close to five points a season. Most top teams have a great or at least a good goalkeeper.
Last season, Arsenal didn’t. Arsenal might boast one of the league’s best attacks, but last season their goalkeeper and defense let them down, which ended up costing them dearly.
After Arsenal’s campaign in the 2009-10 season, Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia were the two most hated players in the red half of North London.
The fans had every right to hate the players. After all, these two players with their disastrous goalkeeping cost Arsenal the title.
Matches against Blackburn, Wigan, Birmingham, Tottenham could have all been won had Arsenal had a safe pair of hands guarding their goal.
Fast-forward to the present and while Fabianski has performed admirably to redeem himself, the views on Almunia still remain simple: it’s time for him to leave.
So naturally during the summer, all Arsenal fans were expecting Arsene Wenger to dip into the transfer market and sign a keeper who could actually keep goal for the Gunners.
But much to the disappointment and shock of several Arsenal fans, Wenger chose to persist with his current crop of keepers, and many couldn’t help feel with a sense of doom that Arsenal will lose a chance of winning trophies because of calamitous goalkeeping.
Almunia continued as Arsenal’s No. 1 and in the first match of the season his poor positioning meant that Liverpool scored through N’Gog.
His performances following the display at Anfield were surprisingly assured and confident. He handled everything that came his way in a calm, assured manner that Arsenal fans never expected.
But following his injury against West Brom, the same match in which he had a horror show, Lukasz Fabianski was made Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper.
While Almunia had been poor last season, Fabianski had somehow managed to perform worse than him.
It is safe to assume that the match against Partizan Belgrade proved to be the turning point in the Pole's career. He saved a penalty and produced another stunning save.
Since then, he has been near flawless, barring the goal conceded against Newcastle, which was not entirely his fault. Despite having a few shaky moments, he was largely assured and looked comfortable.
Last season, it had become evident that Fabianski struggles when crosses come into the box, and he does tend to struggle against the high ball with his judgment and handling of these balls.
Should Arsene Wenger sign a goalkeeper?
Very often, he would charge to catch the ball when he should have stayed in his position and other times, he would remain rooted to his position when he should have charged.
These mistakes were repeated in almost every game.
This season, there has been considerable improvement in this aspect. While he still has some work left to do, he didn’t make any costly errors this season and looked comfortable in matches against teams like Birmingham and Wolves, teams which cross the ball into the box.
His reflexes have always been fairly good and this season he has added a bit of solidity to his game.
Arsenal are a team that will dominate possession and the quality their goalkeeper will have to display is keeping his concentration. That is exactly what Fabianski has done this season.
His handling has looked fairly good, and he has been confident while keeping, something which he hasn’t displayed in previous seasons.
Then after he was injured in January, inexperienced youngster Wojciech Szczesny became Arsenal’s No. 1. Before this season, he had played just one competitive fixture for the Gunners.
In his first match in the Premier League for the Gunners against Manchester United, he showed why he is considered one of the most promising talents in England.
Since Fabianski’s injury, he has been on song, producing some fine displays including one great performance against Barcelona in the Champions League.
He has always been touted as the future Arsenal No. 1, and this season, he justified all those claims with a number of assured performances.
His only mistake proved to be extremely costly for the Gunners as his mix up with Laurent Koscielny ended Arsenal’s hopes of winning the Carling Cup.
But despite that, he has remained solid at the back and has been brilliant for the Gunners. He has displayed all the traits of a fantastic goalkeeper and has already staked his claim for the first choice goalkeeping position.
But despite the performances of these two goalkeepers, there have been rumors linking several goalkeepers to the London club, and some fans still feel the need to sign a top goalkeeper.
Some people still remain doubtful of Fabianski, as only this season has he performed consistently and there are still several question marks over whether he can sustain his form over a large periods.
This season he has been as good as the likes of Petr Cech, Van der Saar and Reina.
But a good goalkeeper is a consistent one, a person who rarely makes mistakes, and we are still not sure if Fabianski can be consistent over the course of the entire season.
Fabianski still has certain moments when he makes mistakes when charging to attack a ball, but such incidents have been few this season and have occurred only once or twice.
His punching has become much better, and his handling, too, seems to be far better than previous seasons.
Then to make Szczesny No. 1 could be a risky move, as he is only 20 and still has to develop. But this season, he has hardly put a foot wrong.
But Manuel Almunia finally looks set to leave this summer, after a series of chances has been squandered by the error-prone Spaniard. Almunia is blessed with great reflexes and is a good shot stopper, but he lacks the consistency to be a good goalkeeper.
If Wenger chooses to continue with the two Poles, then Vito Mannone in all possibilities will be made third choice.
The Italian has shown promise for the Gunners and has performed well for Hull City and would not prefer to be third choice. He may look for a move away from the Emirates.
But this may then leave Wenger with a headache of who will be his third choice goalkeeper with none of the youngsters ready to move into the first team.
But if he can persuade Mannone to stay on at the club, then that will leave Arsenal with three extremely talented goalkeepers.
I do firmly believe that there is no need to sign a goalkeeper in the summer transfer window, looking at the way both the Poles have performed in goal.
If Wenger does sign someone like Neuer, then both Szczesny and Fabianski could be tempted to move away from the Emirates in search of first-team football.
With Wenger reportedly planning a major shakeup in the summer and with Arsenal requiring some reinforcements in other positions, it would be wiser not spending on the goalkeepers with two talented goalkeepers already at the club.
It will then mostly come down to Szczesny and Fabianski to fight it out for the No. 1 jersey, and my feeling is that Wenger may choose to persist with Szczesny despite his young age.
This is the first time in several years that Wenger has two good goalkeepers to choose from, and if these two can keep up these performances consistently, then they can become great goalkeepers.
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