When it comes to the goalkeeping department, Arsenal has never been accused of being the strongest Premier League club in the past several seasons. The club’s last world-class keeper was David Seaman and Jens Lehmann could probably be considered an adequate or good goalie. However, since Lehmann's departure, the goalkeeping hasn’t kept up with the other 10 positions on the field as far as top players are concerned. To put it bluntly, goalkeeping has often been the team’s weak spot and it hasn’t been addressed.
Things aren’t looking too good for the Gunners between the posts right now either as it’s been reported that number one keeper Wojciech Szczesny will be sidelined for a few more weeks and his 27-year-old Polish international teammate Lukasz Fabianski is at least three months away from returning to duty. When the season kicked off Szczesny and Fabianski were regarded as the team’s number one and two keepers with Italian Vito Mannone behind them on the depth chart.
That all changed when the two Poles suffered injuries early in the season and Mannone took over in goal. He’s played well since taking over the job, but things could look quite bleak if he gets injured. Szczesny has an ankle injury and is still in recovery mode while Fabianski blew out his ankle ligaments in training on Oct. 16 just as it looked like he was getting nearer to a return to the squad. In fact, it was believed that he was going to be named to the team this Saturday when the Gunners take on Norwich. The last time he played was back in February in an FA Cup game when Arsenal lost to Sunderland. Since then he’s suffered from shoulder problems.
Szczesny has taken to wearing a protective boot to speed up his recovery process, but is still at least two weeks away from returning. This can be seen as good news if your name’s Vito Mannone as it means he’ll remain the club’s top keeper at least until Szczesny gets back to action. Mannone came up though Arsenal’s academy and has done what has been asked of him, but hasn’t been spectacular, probably because he hasn’t had to be as of yet.
It will be interesting to see how manager Arsene Wenger handles the situation when Szczesny is ready to start again. Some supporters believe Mannone’s earned the number one spot, but it will really depend on the results of the club between now and when Szczesny returns. If the club happens to go on a losing streak then the manager won’t have to think too hard about what to do.
However, if the Mannone continues to play well and Arsenal keep earning points with him in goal then Szczesny may simply have to sit on the bench and await his turn. Mannone’s still relatively young for a keeper and he will likely keep on improving with experience. If he does get injured though, the team will have to rely on Damien Martinez of Argentina to take over in goal or James Shea of the youth team. Mannone has played in seven games this season with Szczesny starting in two and Martinez playing once.
Things get busy over the next couple of weeks with the Champions League picking up again and Arsenal set to face German club Schalke next Wednesday. The sudden injury crisis in goal could lead Wenger to look for some type of experienced reinforcement in the next transfer window. Fabianski is a hard person to rely on since he’s played just 62 times for the first team since joining the Gunners five years ago from Legia Warsaw. He’s been sidelined with various injuries and that’s what caused him to lose the number one job to Szczesny late in the 2011-12 season.
He’s been Wenger’s number two choice since then and played just six times last season. Szczesny has played well at times and in other instances he’s made some costly mistakes. Consistency seems to be his biggest enemy. If you’re looking for some good news in the injury department it has to do with young England international midfielder Jack Wilshere, who recently got through 90 minutes in a friendly with Chelsea. He’s played a few games now and is scheduled to play another game next week.
Wilshere could be back in the line-up soon after sitting out for 17 months with leg injuries. Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Frimpong might be right behind him too when he returns as they’re edging their way back to the squad.