Arsene Wenger’s loss of faith in Wojciech Szczesny is hardly a confidential fact.
Ever since the Polish shot-stopper compounded his incompetence at St. Mary’s by drowning his sorrows with smokes, he has found himself relegated in the pecking order to David Ospina. The manager – perhaps rightly – opined that at a time when Arsenal’s top four hopes were bordering on the precarious, it was time to shuffle the cards and keep everyone on their toes.
Fortunately for Arsenal and unfortunately for Szczesny, Ospina’s inclusion brought along with it an array of defensively sound performances and clean sheets. That, coupled with talk that Wenger may need a keeper significantly better than the two they currently possess, could mean that an unpleasant exit may lurk in Szczesny’s dicey future.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that the presumed arrival of a new keeper in the summer could catalyst Szczesny’s exit, for Wenger is unlikely to cash in on Ospina – a keeper he purchased hardly twelve months ago. Indeed, Metro and Daily Star have already associated him to the likes of Roma and Inter Milan respectively. However, despite Szczesny’s abrupt stunt in development, there yet exist legitimate reasons to persevere with him.
- Excels at defending set-pieces and diving
Szczesny’s relative height advantage on his Colombian counterpart entails that he’s invariably better than Ospina in the air. Even in a forgettable 2014/15, his dominance in the box earned Arsenal points, most notably at Upton Park. While the match was nothing more than a glorified friendly, it’s hard to imagine a goalkeeper like Szczesny making the error Ospina did against West Bromwich Albion.
In addition, Wojciech is an excellent diver. While one could counter that Ospina is just as competent, his not hard to notice that the Colombian’s parrying technique is faulty. Instead of pushing the ball around or over the frame of the goal, Ospina tends to deflect them into the danger zone, causing heart-in-mouth moments for many.
As evidenced from last season, Szczesny’s diving is world class. Taking over from the debacle which was Manuel Almunia, Szczesny’s outstanding reflexes and athleticism was how he stemmed the flow of Arsenal conceding embarrassing goals. Dives against Crystal Palace and Hull City stood out in his breakthrough last season, not to mention his acrobats at White Hart Lane, sealing a historic Arsenal double over Tottenham. While there may be doubts over his positioning and his kicking, there is little doubt that he is a very good shot-stopper.
- Bounces back from setbacks
Remember when Wenger made a statement of intent when he dropped Szczesny for Lukasz Fabianski against Bayern Munich? Szczesny’s problems with his ego and overconfidence are hard to ignore, but his ability to bounce back from obstacles are equally so. Fabianski fell prey to injury six games later, but the message Szczesny had received – perform or be exiled – was crystal clear. He came back stronger mentally, certainly a trait we know Arsene Wenger admires.
The situation with David Ospina is somewhat similar. Back then, Wenger almost used Fabianski as a tool to wake Szczesny up, with positive dividends. The not-so-distant past suggests that Szczesny has the gumption to respect Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory. Granted, Szczesny looked more rocky and less rock-solid when he was called upon at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, but there is still hope for him.
- He is Arsenal through-and-through
Brought from Legia Warsaw at the tender age of sixteen, Szczesny has been born and bred at London Colney. His celebrations in the aftermath of Arshavin’s curler against the Catalans and the kamikaze 5-3 at Stamford Bridge underline what many already know – Szczesny absolutely loves Arsenal. And while passion is not the only criteria in judging a goalkeeper’s capability, it’s certainly an important one. Szczesny passes that with flying colours.
Course, his detractors may point out to the casual mannerism when he sipped his Gatorade against Southampton (or the smoking fiasco which followed) as a sign that his heart is not in the right place. Personally, though, it seemed more like a confused immature reaction to a shocking display. Furthermore, Szczesny does not have to throw a tantrum simply to prove his anguish, just as Mesut Ozil need not run half a mile into nowhere to prove he cares for Arsenal.
- The classic “wrong place at the wrong time” scenario
Before Ospina was handed the gloves, Szczesny wasn’t overseeing what anyone would call a reliable back four.
Wenger only amassed six players for four positions, Mathieu Debuchy suffered a freak injury against Manchester City, Laurent Koscielny was taming the Achilles heel inside of him, Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal were filling in wherever possible and Per Mertesacker was suffering the ill-effects of Arsenal adopting a high line. With a central midfield injury crisis and hardly any organization within the back four, the gap between Szczesny and his defenders was large enough to fit all the FIFA corruption money. Hardly ideal for any goalkeeper, let alone Wojciech.
Unfortunately for him, human psychology dictates that people are likelier to scapegoat a single person than analyze the larger picture. Szczesny’s off the pitch smoking plight entailed that people had found a handy victim to account for their complaints. It was lesser convenient to point the finger at the tactical approach or the formation than at one person. Szczesny’s errors at St. Mary’s hardly redeemed him of that.
While Ospina had done well initially, much of Arsenal’s newfound defensive nous was down to the players ahead of him. Koscielny shook off his injuries to become the ying to Mertesacker’s yang, Monreal learned a thing or two from his central defensive cameos, and wild cards in the shape of Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin shored up the defensive side of things.
- He deserves a second chance
One cannot legislate for his PR disasters off the pitch, but considering his form in 2013/14, he surely deserves an opening at redemption. It’s hard to forget he tied with Petr Cech for the Golden Glove, something which does not happen at random in the Premier League. Despite his unpopular cocky attitude, he was an absolute wall in goal not too long ago. To not give him a chance to make amends may not be a criminally incorrect choice, but could come back to haunt Wenger.