Arsenal secured the much desired 3rd place and potentially final Champion’s League spot on Sunday after what was very much a rollercoaster season. A start that hadn’t been seen around the club for some time was followed by a slight upturn in results but not very convincingly. Then January came with the Gunners failing to win a single game for the entire month. A 7-1 win over Blackburn in February initiated a 7 game winning streak that saw the 5-2 against Tottenham at the Emirates, undoubtedly the turning point in the race for 3rd as Harry’s tactical tinkering and distraction courtesy of the FA saw Spurs throw away a 10 point gap to the Gunners. As is the Arsenal way, nothing is ever done simply and the Gunners went 4 games without a win before Sunday where it took 3 goal-keeping howlers to make sure of a 15th consecutive season in the Champion’s League.
Mid-way through the season, I reviewed the squad for this site here. Suffice to say there weren’t too many shocks as the season went on as our over-reliance on Robin Van Persie saw his form go downhill and his goals to dry up. Our lack of quality back-up, in many areas of the field, meant we were unable to turn the tide in the likes of the 2-1 loss to Wigan and the 1-1 with Stoke. Our run of good form coincided with the return of the first-choice back four of Sagna-Koscielny-Vermaelen-Gibbs and Wenger’s refusal to sign a full-back in January was (arguably) vindicated with the form of Gibbs and Sagna upon their return. In the midfield department we saw Aaron Ramsey fade away as Tomas Rosicky begin a renaissance of what was once a very promising career. In this article I will look at our goalkeepers and the defence.
Wojciech Szczesny has been an interesting case this season. Many are quick to praise him (myself included!) and often rightfully so, the 2-1 win over Liverpool being the best example where he turned in a goal-keeping performance that belied his 22 years. However, it sometimes seems as if years of Almunia and Fabianski have set quite low standards for us and we’re just happy to have a commanding presence at the back. His save percentage of 64% is the 4th lowest in the league and he has made 4 errors that led to goals. Undoubtedly he is the club’s future number 1 for hopefully a very long time, but either complacency or lack of ability grouped together with the shoulder injury he’s been playing through for the last 5 weeks have meant that his performances have been poor lately, especially when compared to Joe Hart at Man City.
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Hart has made more saves and less errors, Szczesny has become more dominant in the box but this is Arsenal’s approach to set pieces whereas City have Lescott and Kompany to deal with crosses. This approach has worked wonders though, with only 27% of the goals we conceded coming from set-pieces, well down from 54% in 2010/11 (Courtesy of Orbinho). Our ability to concede a goal from the opponent’s first shot on target became a real problem and arguably more of a factor in our record-breaking winning after going behind points tally than ‘mental strength’. Joe Hart and David De Gea were in the top two for shots to save ratio, the two keepers for the top two clubs, so Szczesny still has a long way to go. The young Pole should definitely still be our number 1 next season, but an experienced goalkeeper to deputize him might well keep him on his toes and see more consistent performances from him each week.
Fabianksi has performed fine when called upon in the cup competitions, but the fact that Wenger would rather have Szczesny playing through a shoulder injury for 5 weeks tells you how much he is rated and I would expect him to leave. Mannone and Almunia should depart again with Martinez promoted to the first team and hopefully an experienced signing.
Next Page: Arsenal’s Defence analysed as well as a comparison between Koscielny, Kompany and Colocinni. Click here for the next page.