Friday, February 25, 2011

Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny: From Brentford to Barcelona to Be Gunners' Saviour

Arsenal's supporters do not feel comfortable when the Gunners take on Stoke City because of their aerial bombardment which has lead to their team conceding goals. The win against Stoke on Wednesday highlighted the determination of the Gunners and Szczesny's performance vindicated the manager's decision in the summer. Arsene Wenger was urged by plenty of supporters to sign a new goalkeeper in order to provide more security at the back.

The Frenchman was content with the quality of his keepers and provided the chance to the error-prone Manuel Almunia at the start of the season. Though he had a strong start to the season, the horror show against West Bromwich Albion and the injury he sustained in that game provided the opportunity for the fringe goalkeepers Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny to make the place their own.

Though Fabianski has had a tough time at Arsenal, the manager has retained a lot of faith in the youngster and has provided the lad with a number of opportunities to show his quality. The Pole who has endured a lot of criticism was nervous in the first few games he started this season but he established himself as the first choice keeper with some very good performances most notably against Wolves, Manchester City and Everton.

Wenger's persistence with these two keepers left the other two keepers Szczesny and Mannone disappointed due to the lack of opportunities in the first team. Mannone has since moved to Hull City on loan while Szczesny remained with the club and started the season as the third choice goalkeeper. Manuel Almunia's injury provided him the opportunity to be the second choice keeper and he got opportunities in the League Cup.

Szczesny has been with the club since 2007 and despite not getting many opportunities at Arsenal, he was regarded as one of the brightest young prospects at the club. With the goalkeeping position a matter of constant discussion amongst critics and supporters, Szczesny was touted by many to be the no. 1 keeper in the future.

He was loaned out to Brentford in the last season and established himself as the first choice keeper for them with a string of superb performances. He was one of the most influential performers for the lower division side and was rightly praised by the then Brentford manager Andy Scott who suggested that he would not be out of place in the Premier League.

He returned to the club in order to stake a claim for the goalkeeping position and though he was promoted ahead of Vito Mannone, he was disappointed with the lack of opportunities due to the manager favoring the more experienced Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. His disappointment led him to issue an ultimatum that he would not extend his contract beyond this year if he did not get enough opportunities.

He subsequently calmed down and signed a new long term contract to the relief of supporters who had belief that he could go on to be the first choice keeper. Fabianski had done very well this season and it was very unfortunate for him to be injured during warm-up for the game against Manchester City. He did play the match securing a clean sheet but the injury to his shoulder required surgery which ruled him out for the season.

Szczesny who had made his Premier League debut weeks earlier against Manchester United in front of a hostile crowd at Old Trafford was given the opportunity to start games on a regular basis. The Pole has since started many Premier League games and has not looked out of place in the Premiership. He has shown great reflexes and has ensured that Fabianski has not been missed by the Gunners.

The most impressive attribute about the youngster is his confidence in his abilities which is extremely important for being successful. The goalkeeper's huge frame and strength allows him to command his area which has greatly helped the Gunners in dealing with aerial bombardment as was the case against Stoke. The youngster seems undaunted by the task in front of him and it is clear that Wenger has a lot of faith in the keeper providing him opportunities despite the return of Almunia.

Arsenal goalkeepers generally come under greater scrutiny for mistakes than any other goalkeepers and it was imperative that Szczesny did not make errors in the first few games. However, his assured and dominating performances in the last few weeks has most people convinced that he is the Arsenal goalkeeper for the next decade.

Szczesny seems unfazed by the challenges in front of him as he showed in the game against Barcelona where he had to face the threat of the world's best strikers in Lionel Messi and David Villa. He made a couple of superb saves to keep Arsenal in the hunt and his anticipation was excellent throughout the game. Though he could not claim a clean-sheet, it was another assured performance by the youngster who has made the astonishing transition of Brentford to Barcelona within a year.

He will be between the sticks for the Carling Cup final which the Gunners hope to conquer to end their long wait for a trophy. Wembley and the Nou Camp awaits the Polish International who could be the answer to Arsenal's goalkeeping conundrum for the next decade.

This article is also featured on The Invincible Gunners, a blog on Arsenal and other football news

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