Why Naming Wojciech Szczesny for the FA Cup Final Would Be a Risk for Arsenal

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2015

Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny looks across the pitch during the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Arsenal and Reading at Wembley Stadium in London, Saturday, April 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Tim Ireland/Associated Press

Arsene Wenger is a man of principle. When he establishes a precedent, he tends to stick by it. His selection policy determines that his deputy goalkeeper will be selected for FA Cup games, and as such, it was no surprise that he named Wojciech Szczesny in the side for the semi-final against Reading.

However, with the final against Aston Villa now looming, Wenger will have to think carefully before calling on Szczesny again.

Arsenal were in this precise position 12 months ago. At that time, Szczesny was first choice, but Wenger chose to keep faith with understudy Lukasz Fabianski for the final against Hull City.

However, Fabianski was a man in form. In the semi-final, he performed heroics in a penalty shootout to help Arsenal past Wigan Athletic. The contribution he had made to Arsenal’s cup campaign was clear.

Szczesny has not been quite so eye-catching in his increasingly infrequent cameos in the team. Saturday was his birthday, but it wasn’t a particularly happy one, as he allowed a deflected Garath McCleary shot to bounce beyond him and over the line. With confidence rapidly draining from Arsenal’s once-assured 'keeper, many fans are urging Wenger to keep David Ospina in the side when the Gunners return to Wembley at the end of May.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

It’s an understandable position to take. Cup finals are huge occasions, and Arsenal should arguably play their best available XI. At present, Ospina is clearly the manager’s preferred goalkeeper. Compared with Szczesny, he has a tremendous recent record. Leaving him out of such an important game would seem to defy logic.

The decision to play Fabianski last year didn’t work out particularly well. Although Arsenal went on to win the game, his presence appeared to fill the defence with a hesitancy that allowed Hull to take an early 2-0 lead. Arsenal were well aware of their set-piece threat, having faced them in the league just a few weeks earlier, yet they still started the game with a goalkeeper who had a history of dealing poorly with crosses.

There was also a moment in extra time when Fabianski charged recklessly from his goal. Fortunately, Sone Aluko was unable to capitalise.

The Gunners got away with it against Steve Bruce’s side but may not do so against an Aston Villa team that has been dramatically revitalised by Tim Sherwood.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

It would be a huge blow to Szczesny to miss the FA Cup final, but Wenger has to do what’s best for the team. Given that he has lost his first-team place, there has to be a high chance that the Poland international will look to leave in the summer. There is no obvious long-term benefit to his inclusion.

Szczesny did not respect Wenger’s rules when he chose to smoke in the dressing room in the wake of the defeat at Southampton in January. Wenger might be inclined to use that as justification to bypass his own directive when it comes to selecting his goalkeepers. Come the cup final, Arsenal should name the XI in the best possible form. That may mean leaving Szczesny on the bench all over again.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.