It’s become as poisoned a chalice as the Arsenal captaincy. Cesc Fábregas, back as far as Gilberto, and those who have donned the armband since, used the opportunity to enhance their CV’s although today the conversations lend themselves to revealing the manager’s displeasure and not the player’s ego.
The same is true of being Arsenal’s cup goalkeeper. Well, except for the ego-driven transfer requests. I don’t think anyone could blame Lukas Fabianski for leaving. In the end his misfortune was the injury he suffered against Norwich City rather than anything Wojciech Szczesny’s abilities. That spell on the sidelines is the nagging thought in the latter’s mind now, knowing that he’s been here before.
The question is whether Szczesny has the patience, the desire and the self-belief, to retake the Arsenal goalkeeper’s jersey. You have no idea how hard it was to resist a quip about being in Pole position. Bugger.
Szczesny has always had his critics. The young goalkeeper who was expected to be at the same level as a senior pro from the start of his first full season. In his position, the scope for mistakes to be tolerated is limited; they invariably lead to goals being conceded. As with any young player, the peaks and troughs are marked; the hope – the expectation – is that age finds the margin between the two narrower and the frequency of their appearance, certainly the latter, much reduced.
The Pole was having a spell where the bottom of the barrel was nearer than the top. It happens and there are two ways out of it; form or departure. Arsène is not sure which it is. He prefers the former, of course, “at the moment it is very difficult to answer that question, you know.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement, particularly when his previous sentence around Szczesny’s future involved the word “hope“. Wenger was quick to emphasize that he wants his current second choice, that the player knew the lay of the land before the season started. It would be curious if the truth was that concise and in truth Szczesny’s form was wayward before the final cut came after the Southampton debacle. Indeed, if as Arsène claimed with Ospina, the goalkeeper’s form is not the sole reason for the team’s improvement since Christmas, the same holds true for the inconsistency beforehand.
That said, if Arsenal are to break the cycle of just finishing in the top four, to improve, all players have to pick up the cudgels and find consistency of performance. Wherever Szczesny goes, it’s a lesson he will need to understand and learn; running from it at Arsenal might be the short-term solution but that truth will never go away. The question for Arsène is whether he believes the Pole can do that and then improve more. It’s a tough situation for him to manage, goalkeepers are not noted for their versatility in other positions in teams so when the rules are set as one bad performance, you’re out, that’s what they are.
As well as Szczesny though, the same holds true for Ospina and the pressures are the same. Arguably he has more to lose than his rival having established himself as his country’s first choice goalkeeper. But he knew that risk and still took it when he chose to join Arsenal. Indeed, you sense that he was more up for the fight than Szczesny or more aware of it.
He, like Szczesny, was comfortable as his club’s first choice goalkeeper, probably comfortably ahead of his deputy, as with Szczesny but his ambition took him to pastures new, a different challenge and a step up. To some extent, I wonder if the change, the disruption to the comfort zone, shook the incumbent. I wonder though, how Ospina would have coped in goal with the inconsistency of the team as a whole. Would we be in any different a position now if the roles were reversed?
Perhaps; the answer is subjective.
This is the flipside of having a settled team. Those who were formerly assured of a starting line-up place are now on the fringes and they don’t seem to like it. Good, that’s the way it should be. Players at this level ought to be annoyed that they are not playing, they ought to be desperate to do so and if they have any balls, willing to fight for their chances.
The language Arsène used in comparing Szczesny and Walcott’s situations was interesting; there was more hope when he spoke about Theo, a spring in his step. Then again, he made it clear that the player is easy to talk to but the politics of Team Walcott are the problem. Whether that’s because they are difficult negotiators contractually or they invoke a spirit of independence in the player is not so clear.
If Wenger’s words are one any sign of the future, the speculation about Petr Cech reads differently. Not in the target, that has always struck me as being a little too convenient and short-term in its outlook. That has a different hue this morning with Arsenal seemingly on the cusp of a short-term problem, needing a trusted solution to keep pressure on Ospina in the event Szczesny leaves.
Where Arsène was clear is that Szczesny plays tomorrow and that is the only thing which matters in the short-term. Now there’s just the other ten places in the starting line-up to fill.