Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arsenal Future Goalkeepers: Fabianski, Szczesny, Mannone and Wenger's Masterstoke

Arsenal were linked with a number of goalkeepers in the summer including the likes of Mark Schwarzer and Shay Given and most of the Arsenal supporters were let down by the manager Arsene Wenger's decision to not sign an experienced goalkeeper. The Arsenal manager installed the inconsistent Manuel Almunia as the first choice keeper at the start of the season.

Though he had few decent games, his horrendous performance against West Bromwich Albion cost Arsenal vital points in the Premiership and he has been injured since then. Lukasz Fabianski had a terrible time last season where he was responsible for a number of goals and a large section of the supporters wanted the Polish keeper to be sold during the summer.

Almunia's horrible performance and his injury provided Fabianski the chance to start games on a regular basis. Kieran Gibbs conceded a penalty against Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League and the Polish International saved it. It proved to be a turning point in his career as he has been excellent since then.

Lukasz Fabianski

Wenger has always maintained that Fabianski had the talent to be a world class keeper but until this season, it was hard to see why the manager backed him to the extent he did. Fabianski has grown in confidence and has been excellent in many games so far. Like any other goalkeeper in the league, he also makes the odd mistake (which is unfairly criticized by many) but he has had a consistent season and has been responsible in bringing stability to the defence.

He is still young and there are aspects he can improve on but he has shown that he is capable of being the first choice goalkeeper for the Gunners in the future. His confidence has been important for the Gunners and the defenders are relying on him to help them out when needed and there are signs that he is capable of commanding his back line though he has to improve his communication with the defenders and be more decisive.

He has won over many Arsenal supporters who doubted his potential and has been immense this season for the Gunners including some Man of the Match performances. However he has also been injured this season which would normally have presented the Gunners with a huge problem. Arsenal have not suffered despite the injuries to Fabianski and Almunia mainly due to the confident presence of Polish youngster Wojciech Szczesny.

Wojciech Szczesny

Szczesny had a impressive loan spell with Brentford in the Championship and he was determined to fight for his place in the Arsenal team this season. The tall goalkeeper was initially quoted to be unhappy with Arsenal and Wenger for not providing him enough opportunities in the three seasons he has been at the club.

But the Polish youngster was convinced by the experienced manager that he had a future at Arsenal and signed a long term contract with the club. He has subsequently made a number of appearances for the club and has shown that he is one of the brightest young prospects in world football. Szczesny made his Premier League debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford which is arguably the toughest fixture in the season for the Gunners and performed admirably under immense pressure in front of a hostile crowd.

He is a hugely confident lad who believes he must start games regularly which is the attitude that a player should have and his ambition will help him establish himself as the first choice goalkeeper in the future. He has got excellent reflexes, good command of the area and his huge frame enables him to be excellent in one-on-one situations. The Polish youngster has been compared with the legendary Manchester United keeper Peter Schmeichel and though there is a long way to go for him, he has the talent to be an extremely influential figure for the Gunners in the future.

Szczesny is only 20 and at times, he does make the odd error in judgement. The Poland International's distribution (especially from kicking) has to improve and he needs to work on his game but there is enough to suggest that he can be a top level keeper in the future. He is likely to push his senior compatriot for a place in the first team and should he maintain this consistency, there is every chance that he could start games regularly for the Gunners in the near future.

Vito Mannone and James Shea

Vito Mannone had some impressive moments for the Gunners last season but has slipped down the pecking order and has grown increasingly frustrated due to the lack of opportunities. He has been loaned out to Hull City and he has been good for them. Mannone was touted for big things after his sensational performance against Fulham last season but he has not had enough opportunities to show his quality for the club.
With Szczesny and Fabianski in excellent form, it is unlikely that Mannone will have a place on the bench in important games when the Polish duo is fit. The Italian youngster could leave the club at the end of the season if he is disillusioned with his situation with the club and though Wenger believes Mannone has a future with the club, Szczesny's promotion ahead of him and his performances for the Gunners has meant that he is likely to be ahead of him.

Arsenal's reserve keeper James Shea is another talented keeper at the club but he is still considerably inexperienced. It is likely that he will be loaned out to a Championship club in order to gain more experience in the future. Shea is highly rated but if Szczesny and Fabianski improve further, then the rest of the keepers could have a tough time breaking into the squad.

Wenger's Masterstroke was his decision to not sign another Keeper

It was widely rumored that Arsenal would sign a keeper in the summer but the French tactician did not spend the money required to acquire the services of a new keeper and provided the opportunity to the four keepers to establish their place in the team. Though Almunia failed yet again, Fabianski ha been provided with a run of games and has improved considerably. He has grown in confidence and has been excellent this season.

If a new keeper was signed, it is likely that Fabianski would never have fulfilled his potential and his confidence would be further shattered. Szczesny had only one year remaining on his contract in the summer and if another keeper was signed, there was a good possibility that he would quit the club. Arsene Wenger rates the Polish duo highly and could not afford to take the risk of losing the talented keepers in the future.

At present, Fabianski and Szczesny are embroiled in healthy competition for places and though Fabianski is currently the first choice keeper, he needs to perform at a high level to avoid being dislodged by his younger compatriot. Szczesny on the other hand will get his chances in the domestic Cup ties and will be the deputy to Fabianski in other competitions. If he continues to perform like this, it will be a hard decision for Wenger to make.

Vito Mannone has performed brilliantly at times for the club but the emergence of Szczesny has limited his chances of being the first choice keeper to a great extent which is why there is a good chance he could leave at the end of the season. For a club which did not have a single keeper good enough at the start, they have two excellent keepers in Fabianski and Szczesny who will battle it out for establishing their place in the first team on a regular basis.


11Gunners said...

Hey Murali,

Great write-up. I totally agree with most of the points mentioned above, and also feel that Szczesny is 'the' long-term fix we have been waiting for. He's that good.

It's great to note that another Indian has joined the Gunnersphere (Gunners + Blogsphere!); that said, hope you've given our initiative a look-in:

We would to love to stay in touch with you for collaborations in future, etc.


Vijay Murali said...

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