A Look-back on Szczesny’s Career as he Reaches 100 Premier League Apps
It all began with a League debut at Old Trafford in December 2010, following mysterious injuries to Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. After a few Carling Cup appearances, it was time for a young Polish goalie to make his first Premier League appearance, aged 20, in the biggest of stages – away to Manchester United. Arsenal lost the game through a solitary goal but the young lad had announced himself to the world, and he was tipped for greater things.
He continued to improve with each passing game but the lowest point in his fledgling career arrived at Wembley in the 2011 Carling Cup final between Arsenal and Birmingham City. The Gunners had defeated the relegation-bound outfit home and away, so it was meant to be a stroll in the park but we all know how that game panned out.
Arsenal’s misery was compounded when Szczesny suffered a finger injury from a Dani Alves free kick in the Champions League encounter against Barcelona but the game will be remembered for more reasons than one. At the start of the 2011/12 campaign, Szczesny changed his jersey number from No. 53 to the jersey vacated by Aliaksandr Hleb.
Szczesny continued to progress and in the 2011/12 season, his penalty save against Udinese aided the Gunners in their qualification from the playoffs to the Group Stages. That season, Szczesny was ever-present for the Gunners making 49 appearances and it’s also worth noting that he played every league game for the club. He made a lot of outstanding saves that season and I can’t think of any save better than the one he made against Wolves in April 2012.
With Manuel Almunia leaving the club when his contract expired, Wojciech Szczesny took over the No. 1 jersey and great things were expected of the young Pole working his way up the food chain. He began the 2012/13 campaign with a clean sheet against Sunderland and an ankle injury halted his progress for a couple of weeks before he returned to the fold with a howler against Southampton. He went on to make more complacent performances and his form waned.
He got a wake up call when Wenger dropped him to the bench against Bayern Munich and the fact that his father blasted the boss for his poor form didn’t help his cause. A rib injury to Fabianski allowed the younger Pole to return to first-team action and this saw a change in his fortunes as Szczesny kept clean sheets in the run-in for a third placed finish.
The graphic illustration below (culled from 7am Kick Off) shows a comparison of Szczesny with other top keepers in the Premier League last season.
Despite the fact that the club was linked heavily with Julio Cesar this summer, Wenger kept his faith with Szczesny. The Pole had a shaky start to the new campaign with a torrid performance against Aston Villa but he responded superbly with three clean sheets in the next four games which included a superb performance in the North London Derby. Even though Giroud will be remembered fondly for his deft finish, Szczesny improvised save from Jermaine Defoe was the stuff of legends.
Szczesny continued his fine form as the season progressed and his magnificent save from Mila Jedinak against Crystal Palaceturned out to be the difference between a victory and a draw, as Giroud sealed the points late on.
When the Gunners hosted Fulham, Wojciech Szczesny became the fourth Arsenal goalkeeper to make a century of Premier League appearances, marking the occasion with a clean sheet.
The Pole is the 43rd player overall to reach 100 Premier League outings for the Club, and joins David Seaman (325), Jens Lehmann (148) and Manuel Almunia (109) as the other goalkeepers on the list. Since his Premier League debut in 2010, Szczesny has amassed up to 9,000 minutes of first-team football.
According to stats king, Opta stats, Szczesny has a 70.5 save percentage from shots faced in the Premier League – broken down to 59.2 per cent for shots in the area and 86.9 per cent for shots from outside the box. He has made 113 catches, 64 punches and just seven drops. He has saved four out of 17 penalties faced.
Only Ali Al-Habsi has faced more penalties than Szczesny in the same time frame (21) and only Joe Hart has kept more clean sheets (but has played 12 more games). He has also amassed 39 clean sheets in the 100 league appearances he has made with 10 of these clean sheet coming this season.
Despite the fact that the Pole has shown vast improvement in concentration and shot stopping, Szczesny sits behind a defense that seems incredibly hard to play through. Koscielny and Mertesacker have been a brilliant central defensive pairing this season and Szczesny has benefited from their defensive output. While Koscielny remains the hot head that anticipates the ball and uses his pace like a cover, BFG sweeps things at the back and his calmness, composure, height and coordination has been very vital for the Gunners this season.
The Pole recently signed a new long-term deal with the club and despite being just 23 years of age, he has already professed his desire to finish his career with the club. Szczesny has made a lot of saves this season and his distribution has also improved but we all know that he’s not a finished article yet, and his best years are well ahead of him.
However, Gunners can sleep well at night knowing that there’s a reliable custodian between the sticks.
Bonus Reading: No. 1 Completes a Ton – Arsenal.com
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