As we gear up towards the new season, we all do our personal assessment of how the team is shaping up for the upcoming season. Whether we have enough in our tanks to mount assaults on all four fronts or whether we are a little light and should be looking to focussed our energy on on front only. It’s a team game and no player can be expected to remain fit for an entire season (when that happens, it has a lot to do with luck as well) nor consistently produce the goods.
In some periods or in some games, the back ups or reserves will have to step into the breach and provide cover. These finer details may ultimately be what that determines whether we finish as winners or losers. For today, here’s a look at the defence, starting with the goalkeepers.
Wojciech Szczesny has 1.5 seasons as the number for Arsenal now. 72 appearances since then, the Polish international has firmly established himself as the numbero uno by default. However, many still believe that we need a more experienced player in this position, over Szczesny. That thought is futher supplemented by his performance at the recent European Championships. The decision to concede the penalty may be wise but at the risk of a red card and missing the rest of the tournament.
On his day, Szczesny is a wonderful shot stopper who is very imposing inside the penalty box. He directs things from the back, barking orders to the defenders in front of him. He also delays going down when in one-on-one situations and makes himself as big as possible, that is another plus point. He is as unflustered as they come with confidence always on the positive side.
But his inexperience does count against him. Some times his decision making can be questionable. During last season, there are times when he came rushing out for the ball (ala Manuel Almunia) but didn’t go through with it. That’s because he realised that it’s the wrong decision and he quickly hurried back. Small decisions like this could be telling over the course of a season. His kicking is also one other area where he can improve, as some of those clearance does go straight to the opponent inside our own half. There’s still work to be done but there’s no question that at the moment, he’s the best at the club in that position.
The nearest challenger to his spot is his fellow countryman, in Lukasz Fabianski. 5 years older but behind Szczesny at both club and country level. Quite the unlucky man too. Initially the first choice, before succumbing to injury which granted Szczesny the quicker promotion than expected. Also felt the wrath of the injury curse at the Euros. Had he not been injured before the tournament, Fabianski could have played after Szczesny’s red card.
An equally good shot stopper, Fabianski’s weakness lies in his inability to command his penalty area. He is less authoritative during set pieces and can be suspect in handling crosses. In the English league, that is a weakness that will be exploited more times than we could hoped for. There are only a handful of teams who play the game like we do, in terms of our style and keeping the ball on the floor. Most would see the set pieces as the best avenue to nick a goal of us.
I believe he’s good enough to play for us, perhaps not as the first choice but definitely more than capable as a reserve keeper. Suspect but given a longer run of matches, he will come back to the form that he shown before Szczesny’s rise. Though, he wasn’t at all subtle about what he wants. Last season, he hinted at a move away to get first team football. Even a loan move would be preferred to sitting on the bench. He intimated this again when a fan asked of him, the plans during the recent tour to Asia.
The trouble lies if Fabianski does leave, permanent transfer or otherwise. Because behind the double Poles, is Vito Mannone. A keeper whom I think is not good enough to play for us, not even at the back up. Yes, there was this one phenomenal game at Craven Cottage but every dog has its day. That was it for him. In the other times, like away at Olympiakos, is more up his alley. There’s really no need to further to explain how good or bad he is. There’s hope from the reserves in the shape of Damien Martinez. Despite being highly thought of within the Arsenal camp, he is still far too raw to be promoted immediately. A season or two on loan would be beneficial to him and us.
If things remains as it seems, I don’t see a major shake-up needed in this department. Though, we’re just and injury and/or a suspension away from Mannone playing and frankly, that scares me. If Fabianski does leave the club, then I hope we bring in a keeper with a substantial amount of experience. A person who can act as the mentor to Szczesny but is also able to be counted on, whenever he is called upon into action.
In all, I am pleased with our goalkeeping situation. But we’re only one change away from it not being too pleasing. Tomorrow, the centre backs.