In the recent past, Arsenal has had problems finding a perfect goalkeeper. Of the quartet currently known as the ‘Big Four,' Manchester United relied upon the solid Edwin van der Sar, and now have the duo of David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard. Chelsea has Petr Cech and Manchester City has Joe Hart, who is arguably the best goalkeeper in the league. For Arsenal however, the goalkeeping department has been inconsistent of late.
When Wojciech Szczesny made his first team debut at Old Trafford in December 2010, his performance was heartening. Although he was only slotted in due to a warm up injury to Lukasz Fabianski, he showed everyone that he neither lacked the talent nor the self belief needed at the top level. As his impressive performances kept on stretching from game to game, the Gunners began to believe that the goal keeping problem was solved; the Champions League qualifier against Udinese last season and the 2-1 victory at Anfield readily coming to mind.
However, Szczesny had his bad games too, with a poor performances at White Hart Lane and more recently against Southampton earlier this season, with a mistake leading to Arsenal's first goal conceded in the campaign. His summer was also abysmal with a shaky performance in his only game at the Euro tournament against Greece, where he not only was at fault for the equalizer but also was sent off.
This season however, Szczesny has been conspicuously missing and the official line is that he is injured. Perhaps he really is, but this may not, in fact, be the case. If you are an Arsene Wenger disciple, you know that mysterious injuries have occurred in the past. Thierry Henry and Manuel Almunia suffered from ‘injuries’ that could be more as a result of poor performances. The injury thus allows some pressure to be taken from the player who can regain confidence or work on whatever is necessary in training. According to the manager, Szczesny is currently a couple of weeks away from returning to the first team, with Vito Mannone currently trusted with the position.
When he starred in pre-season games, no one believed Mannone was going to have a long run in the Arsenal net. However, the Italian has now started five of Arsenal’s seven games this season in the league and looks set to continue for a while at least. Credit must be given to him for some of his saves, but he has had his ‘floppy’ moments too, although he has been lucky as they have gone unpunished.
It is beyond doubt that Szczesny has the potential to be the long term number one goalkeeper at Arsenal, but Wenger is likely bothered by the frequency of the mistakes compared to other top keepers around the league. In the long term, Szczesny is a better goalkeeper than Mannone, but he must prove that to the manager.
Every manager would welcome serious contention for starting berths in the team like our neighbours Spurs do in their goalkeeping department, but at Arsenal, there are two goalkeepers who are not yet at the level a team aspiring to challenge for the title should be. There were rumours in the summer linking the Gunners with Hugo Lloris, but the Frenchman moved to Tottenham. Looking through the sides in the league, there aren't too many where Szeczsny would be the number one choice at present.
it would appear that Arsenal is a stronger and more balanced team this season, though it is early to say. And with rumours that Wenger has a £35million kitty to spend, it will be interesting to discover if cash will be splashed and, if so, in which department. If neither Szczesny nor Mannone steps up and makes a solid case for being a permanent number one, it might be that a fair chunk of that money would be well spent picking up a world-class goalkeeper - although it's difficult to think of who would be available that could walk straight in to the side.
Fortunately, we should know by the transfer window whether the keepers are up to par, or whether a January buy is essential.