So I think we can all agree that Wojciech Szczesny has been a silly boy after the last few days.
Rumours circulated a couple of days ago from ex-Gunner John Jenson that the goal keeper was facing a huge fine and had been told he would not play again this season after a huge row with Arsene Wenger. This was denied by Arsenal.
Yesterday, it was then reported that Szczesny had been fined by Arsenal for smoking in the shower.
After his poor performance against Southampton, his response to conceding one of the goals, and these reports, he has come in for a lot of criticism in the media and on social media, and much of it is deserved.
I am however going to (attempt) to defend Szczesny a little bit.
Szczesny is having a rough season, that’s for sure. Throughout his career at Arsenal, he has had a few dips of form, where he just seems to lose the plot. It happens to anyone. Joe Hart has had similar issues.
The problem is when a player is out of form, they need to be taken out of the limelight and, until last week, our second choice stopper, David Ospina, was injured. Wojciech Szczesny should have been taken out of the limelight a couple of games ago, but he was unable too.
Last season, Szczesny won the Golden Gloves for most clean sheets – and produced some match winning performances. You do not become a bad player over night. He has the natural ability to be a top keeper. He has proved that.
People claim that Szczesny is immature, but maybe we just need reminding that he is still only 24. In goal keeping terms, that is very young. Some would argue it is too young to be a top keeper, but his performances last season would show otherwise.
Szczesny is only going to get better. I can think of very few keepers in Europe who are under 25 that are better than Szczesny.
One obsviously is Thibaut Courtois. He is on another level. Arguably the 2nd best keeper in the World after Nueur.
Some might argue David de Gea, but I would argue otherwise. He is the same age as Szczesny (24) and is just in a bit of a golden spell, similar to what Szczesny was last season.
I actually think the hype around De Gea is a bit too much. He got a lot of credit for saves in the games against Arsenal and Liverpool, but on analysis, he should have saved them. The majority of shots were straight at him and he did not have to pull off any world class saves. I would say in both games it was more poor finishing than great goal keeping.
As for being a bit odd, a bit of a clown, aren’t all goal keepers are a little bit odd. Remember Jens Lehmann? He was immature when he played for us in his last season. He was 38. Keepers are crazy. Some will say it is the craziness that makes them a top keeper.
As for the smoking, yes, it is stupid. Taking out the legal implications of smoking in the work place, and the health implications, it is not the worst thing an Arsenal footballer has done. At least he did not go down Holloway Road after the game and be on the smash till the early hours, or was doing coke in the toilets, or drunk drove. Our history is littered with players doing something stupid. This is the least of it.
And we have all had a bad moment at work, where it’s all gone wrong, and we’ve disappeared for a cheeky fag just to calm ourselves down. Even if we are not a smoker. We have all done it. I know I have. Just because Szczesny is a footballer, it does not mean he is not a person.
The criticism of Szczesny for his performance against Southampton was justified. However, it has kind of masked other people’s mistakes in the lead up to the goals.
For the first, what was Laurent Koscielny doing? He had amble opportunities to clear the ball, but failed to do so. And Per Mertesacker, he got back on the line, but then did nothing. These two could have both stopped the goal, but did not. They were equally culpable for us going 1-0 down.
For the second, why did Debuchy just not clear the ball? His 1st touch bought him back inside. It was just instinct from Szczesny to get a foot on the ball. Yes, he could have shown better instinct, but Debuchy made the original error.
Had Kosicleny and Debuchy done their jobs and cleared the ball, Szczesny would not have had an opportunity to make his error. Both should take as much blame as Szczesny for the Southampton defeat.
Szczesny has his problems, I am not saying he is perfect, but he is also not imperfect.
I believe the issue with him is who surrounds him at the club.
When he is undisputed number 1, he seems to take his foot off the gas. It happened in 2012/13 when Maunel Almunia was sold, Szczesny having made 38 league appearances in the season before. He was undisputed number 1, with only ‘Flappyanski’ as he Lukasz Fabianski was nicknamed then as competition.
He made a few errors in a row, which resulted in him getting dropped for Fabianski who, whilst senior to Szczesny, was inferior in ability. A string of good performances by Fabianski kept Szczesny out of the team until the former picked up an injury allowing the latter to return to the team.
Last season saw Szczesny have his best in an Arsenal shirt and keep more clean sheets than any other goal keeper. One reason behind this is the pressure put on him by Fabianski, who was performing well in the cups. This pushed Szczesny and kept his focus.
Fabianski left, Ospina came in. It should have kept the status quo, with Szczesny being first choice, and Ospina putting pressure on him, keeping him focused. But with the latter’s injury, Szczesny once more became the undisputed number 1, and his performance level dropped.
Taking Szczesny out of the limelight and giving Ospina a run of games now would have a similar affect as to what happened in 2012/13 and Szczesny will become a better keeper. Szczesny clearly needs pushing. Ospina can now do that.
I also think a lack of senior role model in the club damages Szczesny. Is a a young man, but ever since he joined he broke through into the first team in 2010/11 he has not had a senior goal keeping role model to push him and keep him motivated.
In his 1st season in the 1st team, Manuel Almunia begun the season as number 1, but he was a clown. I knew it, you knew it, and Szczesny would have known it.
The other goal keeper at the time was Lukasz Fabianski. Whilst he was senior to Szczesny in terms of age, Szczesny was senior in terms of ability. I can imagine Szczesny looking down on Fabianski, knowing he was inferior. The fact that in 2011 Szczesny took the Poland number 1 jersey off Fabianski would not have helped.
By the end of 2011, Wojciech Szczesny was 21, and Arsenal’s number 1. Almunia had been released, and no new senior goal keeper was bought in.
The status quo remained the same for a few years. Szczesny number 1, Fabianski number 2, Mannone number 3, until Manonne left and Martinez became 1st choice.
The fact that Szczesny has not had a senior goal keeper on the training ground with him since he was 20 is a problem. He has no one to look up to, no one to learn from, no one to pull him into line.
Obviously a goal keeping coach could have done this, but personally I am not a fan of Gerry Payton.
Payton has been at the club for 11 years. I am reliably informed that as a player, he was average. Flappy under a high ball, and a poor kicker. Is it any surprise we seem to develop keepers with similar traits?
With a career as a lower league journeyman, he does not exactly have the razzmatazz to be a role model in the way Bob Wilson did, or David Seaman could had he gone down the goal keeping route. And this creates a problem for Szczesny.
It must be hard to stay motivated when you are undisputed number 1, have no senior competition and have a coach who you probably know more than, and was better at 20 than he was at any point throughout his career.
At 24, Szczesny has time on his side. Ospina can push him and keep him on his toes, and if we take the risk by employing Jens Lehmann as goal keeping coach, he will then have that senior role model as a coach to guide him.
Szczesny has some issues to iron out, but lets back the lad rather than call for him to leave.