Few Arsenal players have divided opinion more in recent years than Wojciech Szczęsny. The Polish ‘keeper’s talent is clear to see but for every positive moment, Szczęsny seemingly delivers a moment of madness.
At the club since joining from Legia Warsaw in 2006 at the age of just 15, Szczęsny has grown up at Arsenal, experiencing highs and lows in equal measure. Following a loan spell at Brentford in the 2009-10 season after which Szczęsny was named Brentford’s ‘Keeper of the Decade, Szczęsny joined the Arsenal first team on a permanent basis. Less than two seasons later, Szczęsny was Arsenal’s undisputed number one, playing every minute of the 2011-12 Premier League season. Things went mostly smoothly until the 2014-15 season with Szczęsny even winning the Premier League Golden Glove in 2014. Szczęsny was talented, but still quite prone to costly errors.
Despite his promise, Szczęsny’s Arsenal career appeared to be all but over in 2015 when, after a truly forgettable performance in Southampton, Szczęsny was caught smoking in the showers after the match. David Ospina took over as the club’s number one until the end of the season. A month after Szczęsny helped Arsenal to their second consecutive FA Cup, Chelsea legend Petr Čech arrived at the Emirates as the club’s undisputed number one. Unwilling to play second fiddle, Szczęsny left for Roma on loan. It appeared unlikely that the Pole would ever play for Arsenal again.
At Roma, Szczęsny immediately replaced Morgan De Sanctis in goal. The Pole would play a key role in helping the club reach the Champions League knockout stages and finish 3rd in Serie A. Still, Szczęsny’s season was not incident free, again he was caught smoking after a match (this time a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona). Szczęsny was dropped for the next league match.
Despite making 42 appearances in Italy, Szczęsny’s place at Arsenal was still blocked by Čech. After suffering an injury at the European Championships with Poland, Szczęsny did not join the Arsenal squad on their pre-season tour of America. Instead, Szczęsny was again sent to Roma on loan.
This season, Szczęsny has stood out as one of Serie A’s top goalkeepers. Starting every league match under Luciano Spalletti, Roma boasts the second best defence in the league and sits in 2nd behind Juventus. Szczęsny has matured immensely in his second season in Italy, gone are the frequent errors replaced by a consistent, commanding presence between the posts.
Not only has his goalkeeping vastly improved but his distribution as well. In his five seasons at Arsenal, Szczęsny’s passing completion was never higher than 63%, in his first season at Roma, he managed a 67% pass completion rate, he has improved this considerably this season, currently averaging 74% pass completion. (Petr Čech’s is 55%)
“I learnt more in four months under Spalletti than in 10 years in England. He puts a lot of importance on details and wants the goalkeeper to be able to play the ball with his feet.”
Szczęsny’s form has seen him linked with a permanent move away from Arsenal with Roma, Napoli, Dortmund and even Juventus recently linked with the Pole. When Szczęsny joined Roma on loan in 2015, many Arsenal fans thought “Good riddance” but now, less than two seasons later, Juventus is considering him to replace Gigi Buffon! If this doesn’t show how much he has improved, I don’t know what will.
Although Petr Čech still has two years left on his current deal at Arsenal, the time is now for Arsenal to bring Szczęsny back to the club and reinstate him as Arsenal’s number one. Čech will be 35 in the summer, earns huge wages and has begun to show signs that he is on the decline. Szczęsny, 27 at the start of next season, is swiftly entering the prime of his career, a prime that could see Szczęsny become one of Europe’s top goalkeepers.
The Szczęsny we will see at the Emirates next season will be an entirely different version of the one who left the club in 2015. If for some reason, Arsenal decide against making Szczęsny the number one, it could be a decision that the club, as well as its supporters, will regret for some time.
Wojciech Szczęsny is already a top goalkeeper and will be one of Europe’s best in the next few years. Here’s to hoping it’s at Arsenal…