Last seasons concerns over the form of number one goalkeeper Wojceich Szczesny showed no signs of resolve last weekend in their 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa.
The season’s opener at the Emirates couldn’t have gone any worse for the Gunners as they were humiliated by a 3-1 defeat, lost three key players through injury and went down to ten men following Laurent Koscielny’s sending off after two penalties were awarded to the visitors by referee Anthony Taylor.
Whilst there are urgent concerns in other areas of the squad – in defence, in midfield and up front – serious questions that were raised last season over their Polish goalkeepers have remained unanswered this summer.
Manager Arsene Wenger dropped the younger of the two Poles after number of poor and inconsistent performances last term and in Szczesny’s absence, Lukasz Fabianski performed well.
But neither of the stoppers have consistently convinced in recent terms and with Vito Mannone having gone out, it looked likely that Arsenal would sign another goalkeeper.
They were heavily linked with QPR’s Julio Cesar but that move has not come to fruition and after Saturday’s defeat to a side that narrowly survived relegation last term, Arsenal desperately need to rethink their options al over the pitch, starting with the keeper.
Wojceich Szczesny arrived in North London as a 16-year-old from Legia Warsaw’s youth system in 2006 and worked his way through the ranks at Arsenal emerging as the long-term replacement for Jens Lehman.
The 23-year-old had impressed and emerged as number one, taking the shirt off the calamitous Manuel Almunia and Fabianski in 2010/11. He has now made over 140 appearances for the Gunners at senior level and kept 40 clean sheets in his three full seasons.
However, last term he was poor by his own standards and by his own admission needed to improve and address his form and fitness. He conceded 35 goals in 33 appearances in all competitions last term and kept 12 clean sheets overall compared to 57 goals conceded and 18 clean sheets kept in 2011/12 in 48 appearances.
Lukasz Fabianski conceded a goal per every 120 minutes last term, second only to Everton’s Jan Mucha and compared to Szczesny who conceded a goal every 94 minutes in the Premier League.
Neither of Arsenal’s keepers feature in the top ten of the Premier League’s most saves last term and Szczesny’s save percentage was at 75% which put his behind 7 other Premier League goalkeepers but, interestingly, ahead of Cesar’s save percentage of 72% at QPR.
Looking at the stats, which, of course, don’t necessarily paint the whole picture, Szczesny is by no means a bad goalkeeper by Premier League standards but is he good enough at present to be Arsenal’s number one?
West Ham’s Jussi Jaaskelainen made 166 saves, new Liverpool signing Simon Mignolet made 149 at Sunderland, Mark Schwarzer just signed for Chelsea on a free transfer after making 137 saves last term for Fulham, Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan made 114 and Stoke’s Asmir Begovic made 110. Arsenal could have signed (and still could) any one of those players without breaking the bank.
At present if Arsenal really and truly do have ambition they need to have players across the whole squad who are the best in the league and that starts with the number one. At present Wojceich Szczesny is a very talented and committed young goalkeeper but for him to become the best it’s going to take at least another few years of hard work and experience.
For practically pocket change, Arsenal could sign a player that can dramatically improve their points tally and goal difference – they lost too many games and conceded too many goals, especially early on, to be genuine title contenders.
Their defence looked healthier than it had been in years towards the run-in last term but Wojceich Szczesny has not fully convinced that he is capable of consistency at the highest level.
Who is the solution for Arsenal in goal, long-term and short-term?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald