The Arsenal Optimist column is easy this week. We beat Bayern Munich to win a trophy. Granted the players didn’t know what to do with the trophy or were unsure if they should celebrate, but we finally got past our German nemesis as we had been trying to do seemingly every year.
I’ve been informed by my editor that a 50-word column celebrating a made-up trophy does not count as a column. Also, the idea of celebrating the victory is kind of sad and stereotypical Arsenal. Since that won’t do, I’ll turn to another topic that is giving me hope for the upcoming season: the keepers.
Let us begin with the one who got away. The transfer of Wojciech Szczesny made many Arsenal fans mad. If he is good enough for mighty Juventus – and by implication good enough to succeed Soccer God Gigi Buffon – then why is he not good enough for Arsenal? Or, maybe more accurately, why wasn’t he good enough for Arsenal. I think what fans tend to forget is there is a human element to the game, and unlike Football Manager things like a player’s emotions and comfort play into their career. It was apparent the Polish international was not settling into at Arsenal; his talent was apparent but whether it was the seeming lack of trust from Wenger or the fear of a rotating cast of young keepers competing with him for the number one spot, he never locked down the starting shirt with the Gunners. He did, however, find a comfort level in Serie A with Roma, and it was there he showed the potential he had always flashed in England. Juve tends to raid promising players from league rivals, so the transfer is a natural fit for player and club.
That leaves our undisputed #1 as Petr Cech, who I had long considered over-the-hill until I realised he was about the same age as me. It seems like some fans are obsessed over who will replace him rather than appreciating him for what he is: a leader this team will need during what could be a psychologically tough season. With no Champions League for the first time since before Maitland-Niles was born and fan dissatisfaction with ownership, the atmosphere at the Emirates could be unpleasant. Cech set the tone as captain after the Bayern victory. Presented with an Audi trophy for goodness only knows what reason, the team urged Cech to hoist the trophy and celebrate. Instead, he wagged his finger at his young team and told them, in essence, Arsenal only lift trophies at the end of the season. That kind of attitude has been severely lacking in the squad, until now. Let us hope it continues.
Next up is David Ospina, who is being linked with a move away from Arsenal. If he does stay, though, he’s certainly a world class #2 that can challenge Cech for playing time. If he does go as is expected, we have what may be the gutsiest #2 in the world. After making two big saves in the Bayern shootout, Eil Martinez shared an amazing statistic. He told reporters that he has never lost a penalty shoot-out, even as a youth player. Even though he was on the pitch for less than 20 minutes, Arsene knew he had a secret weapon when he put the Argentine keeper out there. The next time Arsenal is in a Europa League/FA/League Cup final, we can rest assured that when teams line up for penalties, we’ve got the trophy secured if Martinez is in goal.