There is a new trend emerging in European football. Top clubs have started stockpiling goalkeepers. It is now not enough to have just one senior shot-stopper. Elite teams prefer to have two.
The trend began in earnest with Real Madrid splitting goalkeeping duties between Diego Lopez and Iker Casillas. Although Lopez has since moved on to AC Milan, he has been replaced with another highly rated keeper: Costa Rican Keylor Navas.
Similar situations are now cropping up in the Premier League. The best example is at Chelsea, where Petr Cech is engaged in a duel with Thibaut Courtois. At Tottenham, Michel Vorm is providing stiff competition for Hugo Lloris. Manchester City’s Joe Hart faces a new fight from signing Willy Caballero.
Arsenal are now no different. This summer, having lost Lukasz Fabianski on a free transfer, the Gunners moved to sign Colombian international David Ospina.
Ospina is yet to make an appearance in an Arsenal shirt due to a thigh problem picked up at the World Cup. However, once he has recovered, a battle will surely ensue for the No. 1 shirt.
The man in possession is currently Wojciech Szczesny. He is not someone who is crying out to be replaced. Last season, in part inspired by Fabianski’s excellent performances as deputy, Szczesny produced his best campaign to date. He is maturing into a fine goalkeeper and one of the leaders of the team.
However, it’s essential to keep him on his toes. History shows that his performances dip when complacency sets in. He needs to be pushed to produce his very best.
Ospina will certainly do that. The Colombian has not come to Arsenal to be a back-up. He will have come because he believes he is capable of taking Szczesny’s place. Ospina is an international class goalkeeper, and a place on the bench is certainly not going to satisfy him. Szczesny’s position is far from safe.
Some could argue that creates a problem. Speaking in September 2012, Arsene Wenger himself told Arsenal.com:
Wojciech is No. 1 unless I change my mind. That is clear. That’s why he came back in goal.
You cannot change a goalkeeper every time he makes a simple mistake, because then you have three bad keepers. The confidence is needed.
It’s a special position where confidence is needed.
The clarity that existed then is no longer present. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Wenger appears to have made a strategic choice to follow the trend and go for two top goalkeepers fighting it out. It might prove damaging to Szczesny, but if it results in Ospina emerging above him then that’s no bad thing. The club must come first.
Soon Ospina will return to training, and the battle for superiority will commence properly. It’s sure to be a close fight that continues across the course of the 2014/15 campaign. May the best goalkeeper win, for Arsenal’s sake.