A Tribute to Wojciech Szczesny: Arsenal’s Unsung Hero
There’s something really exciting about this current Arsenal team.
With 12 games gone in the Premier League, Arsene Wenger’s side sits four points clear at the top, with the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea on the prowl. In the Champions League, the Gunners have amassed 12 points from five games, with the match against SSC Napoli in a fortnight going to be a decider of their European destiny.
A lot can be attributed to Arsenal’s good form in the Premier League and Europe – Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere currently lead the club’s scoring charts, the acquisition of Mesut Ozil has been a massive lift, and he has even notched up half a dozen assists, Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta have doing their dirty work superbly and of course, the defensive quartet of Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna have been in phenomenal form.
Despite the fact that the outfield players are getting all the plaudits they duly deserve, there has been a player that has been a model of consistency throughout the campaign and like fine wine, he’s getting better with each passing game. It all began with a League debut at Old Trafford in December 2010, following mysterious injuries to Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski.
Since then, Wojciech Szczesny has been on a steep learning curve and with more games under his belt at such a young age, he continued to flourish even though he had some bad times along the way. His nadir at Arsenal came in the biggest of stages – the 2011 Carling Cup final against Birmingham City where a lack of communication between him and Koscielny led to an easy chance for Obafemi Martins that wasted no time in punishing the Gunners.
Just when everyone thought that Arsenal’s long wait for a trophy was finally over, a new signing and a young goalie joined forces to shatter the hopes of the expectant fans. The club had already defeated Birmingham twice in the Premier League, so the game was meant to be a stroll in the park. The poor form continued afterwards with the Gunners knocked out from the Champions League by Barcelona and the FA Cup by Manchester United.
Despite that setback, 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.
Even after his errors coupled with fairly average performances from his deputy, Vito Mannone, Wenger returned Szczesny into the team and even used him in domestic cup fixtures, clearly showing that he had little or no faith in the deputy Italian. This brought an air of complacency into Szczesny’s game which saw his form wane, much to his team’s detriment.
He got a wake up call when Wenger dropped him to the bench against Bayern Munich (away) 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 against Everton (home), Fulham (away), Queens Park Rangers (away) and Newcastle (away).
While he may want to forget his antics against Southampton (home) and Aston Villa (home), he can look back with pride when he reflects on his performance against Sunderland (away) as well those vital saves he made against Queens Park Rangers (away) and Wigan (home).
The graphic illustration below (culled from 7am Kick Off) shows a comparison of Szczesny with other top keepers in the Premier League last season.
Julio Cesar played a game less than Szczesny because Twitchy Ol’ ‘Arry Red Napkin alternated between the Brazilian shot stopper and Robert Green but Szczesny missed a couple of games through injury as well as that period in Spring when he was dropped for his compatriot, Fabianski. Julio Cesar, Simon Mignolet and Asmir Begovic understandably made more saves than Szczesny due to the quality of sefenders in front of them.
Arsenal was heavily linked with a move for Julio Cesar in the summer following his impressive performances in the 2013 Confederations Cup but nothing concrete has come to fruition as Wenger placed his faith in Szczesny and this season, the goalkeeper has been transformed to one of the finest goalies in the business.
Szczesny 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.
Had that shot went in, the Eagles would have leveled the tie and the Gunners playing with 10 men that odds wouldn’t have been in their favor. November is usually regarded as a bogey month for the Gunners, yet Szczesny has kept four clean sheets in his last five games which include Liverpool, Dortmund (away), Southampton and Olymique Marseille.
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.
Arsenal’s unsung hero.
Wojciech Tomasz Szczesny.
Bonus Reading: Is Szczesny the Best Goalkeeper in the Premier League? – 7am Kick Off
Canon Crested Arsenal Fan of the Week @enigma106 – Canon Crested
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