Last season saw Arsenal start the campaign with Manuel Almunia in goal. We spent most of the summer being heavily linked with a move for Fulham’s goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, but Arsenal declined to increase our initial offer (as only we do) and we decided to persevere with the Spaniard. Little did we know that Almunia would only go on to play 720 minutes between the sticks in The Premier League. So where did it all go wrong for Almunia statistically? It appears to be his inability to stop shots. He only made 9 saves, which equates to a save every 80 minutes and that is certainly not down to our solid defence.
Almunia was dropped and replaced by Lukasz Fabianski at the end of September. The Pole had already suffered from a lack of confidence prior to taking over as our #1 and our fans were far from convinced. Fabianski did well though, he was thrown in at Stamford Bridge and although we lost he showed signs of promise. Fabianski made 14 appearances, keeping 5 clean sheets along the way. Which is impressive considering we only kept 13 clean sheets all season. Fabianski’s also saved a shot every 57 minutes, which is a vast improvement on Almunia’s effort. Unfortunately for Lukasz, just when things started to look up for him he played his last game of the season on January 5th in a bore draw against Manchester City. Lukasz needs to work on dealing with crosses, which earned him a certain nickname in some quarters. He punched crosses away on 14 occasions and missed balls completely on another 4. Gone are the days of Safe Hands Seaman.
As it works in football, one mans misfortune is another mans gain. Could this be one, Wojciech Szczesny on the back of a couple of Carling Cup performances, made his Premier League Debut at Old Trafford. Although his kicking was wayward that night he put in an excellent performance, far beyond his years. He made 3 saves, caught 3 crosses and showed signs of commanding his box by claiming a corner. Those stats may not appear to be ground breaking but this was one of Arsenal’s toughest away games of the season and it was his debut, yet Szczesny wasn’t phased in the slightest. Szczesny went on to save a shot every 54 minutes and he kept 6 clean sheets in 15 appearances, a better percentage than Fabianski. Szczesny has also shown good judgement when electing to crossing and punching. He caught 13 crosses and elected to punch on 9 occasions. Unlike when we faced Newcastle in November, when Joey Barton set up Andy Carroll for the only goal of the game, he (Barton) knew that Fabianski would come for his long pass into the box, electing to punch. As mentioned earlier, the one aspect Szczesny does need to improve on is his kicking, his pass completion is 49%, which you may say is understandable, as a keeper tends to punt numerous balls down field. However, Arsene Wenger likes us to build our attacks from the back and take away the 50/50 by electing to go long.
During our infamous collapse at Newcastle, Szczesny’s pass completion was 36%, only successful on 12 occasions. This was mainly due to the frantic 2nd half and when he got possession, he was continuously trying to pick out Van Persie and it resulted in us surrendering possession which allowed Newcastle to launch wave after wave of attack. That may be a skill that comes naturally as he matures as a goalkeeper but it’s certainly an aspect to work on.
Wojciech is our keeper leading into this campaign, which is certainly an improvement on our keeping situation of 12 months ago. So the future is bright. I also have more confidence in Fabianski, all be it he’s far from perfect but he has shown signs of improvement and who can forget his astonishing save towards the end our game at Wolves. The fight for Poland’s number 1 jersey starts in August, lets just hope Szczesny doesn’t give Wenger any reason to drop him.