Arsenal title challenge hinges on Szczesny progress

Szczesny Foreground

Arsenal recorded a valuable win at Selhurst Park on Saturday after going down to ten men against Crystal Palace.

Following Mikel Arteta's controversial dismissal in the 65th minute by referee Chris Foy for a challenge on former Gunners striker Marouane Chamakh, the Premier League leaders were kept in front by a superb performance by goalkeeper Wojceich Szczesny.

The 23-year-old Pole came under criticism last term after a string of lacklustre displays laden with individual errors but, after reclaiming his first-choice spot between the sticks, he has gone from strength to strength so far this season.

Dropped by manager Arsene Wenger after the North London derby defeat to Tottenham last term, the young stopper appears to have overcome what was a challenging and disappointing season.

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Goalkeepers seldom steal the plaudits from outfield players, especially in a team like Arsenal with such an array of attacking talent but Szczesny's performance on Sunday earned the Gunners the three points. Goals scored by Arteta and Olivier Giroud would have been rendered irrelevant had the Eagles’ Mile Jedinak, Adlène Guédioura, and Joel Ward not been denied by the keeper in front of goal.

Conversely, the error from Manchester City's Joe Hart on Sunday against Chelsea in the 90th minute lost last season's runners up two points against direct title rivals when Fernando Torres capitalised on the England keeper’s mistake. That error may well prove to be costly come May.

If the title is won and lost on a margin or two or three points as it has been often in the Premier League, with so many teams vying for it, or even on goal difference like 2011/12, having a goalkeeper pulling out the kind of stops Szczesny did on Saturday is going to be all important - potentially more important than scoring goals.

It's the old adage but it happens to be true; if you can't score goals at least don't concede them. Szczesny's form at present is a large part of why the Gunners sit top of the league and it'll likely be in large part down to him if they want to be there in May.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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