When Wojciech Szczesny was dropped for the Bayern Munich game - the press went looking for the reasons as to why.
Stories started emerging that Wenger was unhappy with Szczesny’s apparent erratic form and that Wenger was already looking for a replacement.
The stories then continued to gather pace at the weekend as Barcelona contract rebel Victor Valdes was again linked with a move to the Emirates this Summer (in a story created from convenience rather than fact) and Szczesny was left out of the starting line up against Swansea.
But throughout all of this - the press seem to have ignored what Wenger has actually said about Szczesny - thus creating a much distorted picture of the situation – and therefore potential conclusion.
At this point – I lead you to this write up (from Arsenal.com) about Wenger on Fabianski and the need for competition at the club. I mention the whole article because it makes me accountable for the context I’m using this quote in:
“If you raise the question, ‘Is Szczesny happy?” then of course he is not happy when he doesn’t play. Every guy wants to play. They want to play in big clubs as well where there is big competition.
“When you see Manchester United against Real Madrid, you look at the bench and then look at who is sitting in the stands.
“There are some in the stands who would play anywhere. For example, Chicharito was not on the bench, so that's part of being at a big club as there's a lot of competition."
Wenger speaks about competition again in another article and speaks further on the future of Szczesny (and Thomas Vermaelen). I’ve bracketed some comments from me along the way – but keep an eye out for how many times competition is either mentioned or implied:
“They are two outstanding players who are part of our squad (note the word squad – not team); they have played so many games until now. Their position is very important in the squad (reiterating importance of players whilst again mentioning squad).
“All the players are in the same position: nobody is guaranteed a place in the team. When you go into this job, you know you have competition.
“Everybody faces the same competition and the players who have come in have been on the bench for a long, long time. They all have the same problem. The job of being a top-level competitor is to deal with that.
“Every position is up for grabs. You have to face it like that. The last game decides the next one. (Thus explaining Swansea)”
“Who gave Wojciech a chance from nowhere in the youth teams? It was me because I rate him highly and have a big respect for what he has done,” (How many players can you think of that Wenger has given so many chances to from such a young age that he hasn’t kept faith in?)
“But we all have ups and down physically and mentally and he has played many, many games this season. Maybe I should have rested him in the cup games (At this point ask WHY Wenger didn’t rest him in cup games...lack of confidence in others?) but I did not do that. It is normal that you have ups and downs (How many goalkeepers can you think of that haven’t?). He is a young goalkeeper.”
With Fabianski out of contract in the Summer and Wenger either listening to offers for Mannone or not considering him enough competition for Szczesny (return to quote about why Szczesny wasn’t rested in cup games) –Arsenal will be looking for another goalkeeper in the summer.
Competition is needed at the club – Wenger has hinted at that. But Wenger won’t be signing a Szczesny replacement (someone like Valdes or Reina who would expect to be first choice) – he will be signing a player to provide him with real competition and to genuinely give Arsenal another option in the goalkeeping department (One player that might well be in the frame is....).
Szczesny won’t be leaving the club anytime soon – and any reports suggesting otherwise are being created for the sake of headlines.
Yes Szczesny has made errors along the way – he is a young goalkeeper – he is still learning. But the press (and some fans) forget far too easily how many times Szczesny has saved Arsenal from potential defeat. He is the Arsenal number 1 – and will be for a long time to come.
Do you back Szczesny to retain the Arsenal number one spot long-term?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald