Is Szczesny that much of an improvement from fabled North London horror story Manuel Almunia?
When Arsenal were soundly beaten by Southampton on New Year’s Day, you’d have struggled to find anyone with half a brain to be the least bit shocked.
Once again Arsene Wenger’s side were found wanting at the back with some hideously naïve defending and questionable positional play but the shocking manner in which the goals were conceded threw a new face into the spotlight in Wojciech Szczesny – who has slipped somewhat under the radar in terms of criticism with any ridiculously conceded efforts usually, and quite rightly in some cases, being put down to the laughable defensive displays in front of him.
However, the problem with this assessment is that it has given Szczesny a free ride to get away with as many mistakes as possible without widespread criticism or derision.
If the Gunners lose badly, the most likely news angle to be taken is that Wenger has once again inadequately prepared his side or left them too short at the back.
However the truth is that Szczesny is just as, if not more culpable, for some of the mistakes that have seen the North Londoners throw away results or lose catastrophically this season than their much maligned defenders.
Arsenal used to have fabled goalkeeping issues with the likes of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski providing comedy value greater than most standup nights on almost a weekly basis, but is Szczesny really any better than those two?
Sure he may not as frequently make the same mistakes but since his full promotion to the first team in 2010 he’s hardly filled fans with concrete confidence at the back and many know he’s susceptible to the mad rush of blood foul or foolish dash out from the goal-line.
We all have seen some quite wondrous saves from Szczesny over his years in the first team, but his career is also littered with some quite hideous ones, as well as saves you would expect a keeper of that standard to make.
The Poland international’s continual antics really put paid to the idea that he’s a world class stopper or even one of the league’s best. There’s a reason why the whenever the question is raised of who’s the Premier League’s most impressive keepers that there’s an awkward silence and a shuffle of the feet whilst those who aren’t of a North London persuasion try to remember who infact Szczesny is. And when they do it’s more likely they know him for something he’s posted on social media rather than any actual goalkeeping feat or impressive save.
As well as a history littered with goalkeeping mistakes the 24-year-old actually has a pretty poor record in terms of distribution with his long clearances in particular not finding their intended target in the majority of cases.
Szczesny as well ranks pretty poorly in terms of commanding his area with the Arsenal no. 1 sitting 28th out of the 31 keepers fielded in the Premier League this season when claiming the ball in his area.
The key issues with the Pole comes down to one of confidence and in his case that is a brash over confidence. Szczesny may know how to talk the talk but when he tries to then walk the walk he more than often ends up flat on his face with a bloody nose.
With the the nightmarish history of goalkeeping errors just see Manuel “Headless Chicken” Almunia it’s as if any keeper who seems even remotely competent is heralded as a success simply because he’s an improvement on the quite appalling standard they were accustomed to seeing. But is Szczesny really good enough for a title charging side like the Gunners?
If Arsenal want an assured and measured backline then rather than just targeting a myriad of centre backs, they must search for a level headed goalkeeper and one that would rather work on his game and develop his immense talent rather snap a post-North London Derby selfie on the pitch and brag about victories on the internet in the manner of a petulant child.