Category Archives: Wojciech Szczesny

Let’s invite Ospina warmly. Khedira? Be more stand-offish…

Apologies, first of all, for going silent for the last few days. My sister got married this weekend, which afforded too many distractions and imbibements for me to get to the blog. She’s off to Costa Rica, where I’m sure she’ll see how Joel Campbell is doing and report back post-haste. Closer to reality, if only marginally, we seem to be edging closer and closer to signing keeper David Ospina, who sparkled at the World Cup for Colombia and did the same for Nice in Ligue 1. There are the infamous suggestions about “personal terms” with the keeper, with further details that we could bring him on for as little as £3m, which would be a fantastic bit of business. At the other end of things, financially if not feasibly, the Khedira saga drags on with no indication that his camp have budged from demands for a weekly wage of something close to £190m. Just what the hell’s a club supposed to do?

Let’s get the unpleasantries out of the way early, shall we? Khedira is a very, very good player (some might even anoint him as “world-class”), but it’s hard to believe that he’s worth the close-to £200m per week he might cost us. Even if Morgan Schneiderlin would prefer to follow Pochettino to the wrong side of London, and even if we seek a defensive midfielder, I don’t want us forking over that kind of cash for an older, still-coming-back-from-ACL-surgery player. I’d much rather sit Jack Wilshere down on a folding chair with a bare light-bulb swaying above him while various former Gunners lunge from the darkness to convince him that he simply must become the club’s next, great, defensive midfielder. If a creative, attacking type like Arteta can be converted to play more-defensively and at a more-advance age, so to can Wilshere. Putting it another way, should we invest heavily in a player who may need a season or more to adjust to the Prem (such as Khedira), or should we ask a player already adjusted to the Prem to commit to a position? That’s a topic to investigate in more depth…

For now, the apparent topic topic du jour is our pursuit of David Ospina. Arsenal can already boast of being one of the world’s best for keepers, as discussed here, and the rising star that is Ospina could add to that reputation. With the departures of Mannone and Fabianski, we need another keeper—with apologies to David Martinez, who starred as the villain in the 7-5 win over Reading. Ospina seems to fit the bill nicely. He turned in a star performance for Colombia, and a quick run-down of his resumé suggest that this is a keeper every bit as sharp as Szczesny and perhaps hungrier. I love the Woj as much as anyone, but we all know that he needs someone to hold his feet to the fire because he sometimes lacks a fire of his own. Ospina can offer that fire. He may lack the seniority of Casillas, for example, but he can more than hold his own.

For Nice, he turned in a stellar season. Playing for a club that scored less than a goal per game, he almost single-handedly staved off relegation. Nice finished in 17th place in Ligue 1, just two points from relegation. However, if you look at goals conceded, Nice leaps to 10th place in Ligue 1, due largely if not entirely to Ospina’s efforts. With him between the sticks, Nice conceded just 44 goals on the season, level with 5th-placed Lyon, and might have done even better were it not for the five lamentable appearances made by Lucas Veronese, who in his five appearances conceded 15 goals while making one-thirds the saves that Ospina did. Put another way, if Ospina had started instead of Veronese while conceding less than a goal-per-game, Nice might have finished comfortably mid-table instead of scrambling to avoid relegation.

Speaking of stats and saves and so on, it might be worthwhile to compare Ospina to Szczesny, to get a better sense of what Ospina might offer and to what degree he might challenege Szczesny for the starting role. According to squawka, Szcz made 1.95 saves per goal conceded. Not bad. However, contrast that with Ospina, who made 3.39 saves per goal conceded. Ospina faced nearly double the number of shots on goal that Szczesny did while conceding far less often than Szczesny did (25 to 41). I’m not about to parse each goal to assess which of these each keeper “should have” saved. Suffice it to say that signing Ospina wouldn’t just offer us solid support behind Szczesny; it might result in a duel to see who’s the best, a duel that benefits the club as a whole.

I know that, to some degree, I’ve tried to have it both ways with this post. I’ve defended Wilshere against the intrusion of Khedira while offering Szczesny in sacrifice to the arrival of Ospina. It’s hard work splitting the difference between love for the club and admiration of the squad, and I’ll leave it at that until the transfer-window shuts…

Guess we should cross Casillas off the wish-list…

What is happening to Iker Casillas? A year ago, I might have merely chalked up the situation to him being Mourinhoed—that special process through which an otherwise stellar player runs afoul of the Specious One’s whims and is all but put in the stocks for public humiliation and ridicule. More recently, though, it’s been hard to watch Casillas without worrying that his best days have already slipped away from him [edit: insert simile here to equate one’s best days slipping away with a ball dribbling through keeper’s fingers]. His last few performances have seen him deliver some howlingly bad moments, enough of them to make me worry that, as we seek a back-up who can challenge and/or mentor Szczęsny, we might do better than the 33-year old Spaniard. That hurts to say, because I genuinely do admire Casillas.

I’m referring to his last three matches of significance—against Chile, the Netherlands, and Atlético. In each match, he’s been guilty of god-awful gaffes: gettting caught out of position, coughing off rebounds, mishandling balls, and otherwise making a meal out of things. Against Atlético, in an admittedly confusing scrum, Casillas came off his line before stopping about eight yards out, perhaps realizing that he might have to back up. However, he seemed to freeze as Godin’s gentle, floating header drifted over him, and Casillas just couldn’t get back to it in time. Goal. It’s one of those agonizing, slow-motion goals that seem to take forever…if..the…goalie…could…juussttt

Against the Netherlands, a 1-5 drubbing that might have shocked the Dutch just as much as it did the Spanish, Casillas was similarly caught out of position on what was a brilliant goal from van Persie. Again, though, Casillas had come off his line only to get caught in no man’s land. It’s one thing to close down the shooter, trying to deny him the full width of the goal, but Casillas left himself too flat-footed to do much once van Persie headed the ball, and it went straight over Casillas and in. While it’s difficult to blame Casillas for what may amount to one of the goals of the tournament, it wouldn’t have been a goal at all if his positioning or reaction were just a shade better. Were this the only blip, we could call it an aberration. However, it ceoms among a rough stretch for the man, one that very nearly scuppered Real’s quest for La Decima and has already torpedoed Spain’s World Cup defense.

Still on the Netherlands match, Casillas was blameless for Robben’s first and de Vrij’s goal (although a case might be made for interference), but it’s hard to get much worse than his efforts against van Persie when, casually receiving a back-pass, Casillas took a horrid first touch, stabbing the ball straight ahead and out of reach, and van Persie was able to control it and poke home, leaving Casillas to watch helplessly from the top of the eighteen. He cut a rather forlorn figure, standing so far away from his goal, watching on as the Dutch skunk celebrated his brace. I wish that were all. Instead, the enduring image of Casillas from this match might be his futile scramble as he scuttled and clawed on hands and knees to stay in front of Robben, who had outrun Ramos and then cut back to his left to send Casillas sprawling before slotting home to complete the spectacle.

It was more of the same against Chile, when Casillas was caught off his line, this time by Vargas, who coolly collected a pass and slotted home while Casillas watched on. Having overcommitted to his left, he was out of position to defend Vargas coming from the weak side. This was not a gaffe on the same proportion as those against the Netherlands or Atleti, but against that backdrop, it begins to look like another item on a litany. On its own, it’s a tough play characterized by slap-dash defending that left the keeper isolated. In the broader context, it feels more like another mistake. Similarly, on Sanchez’s free kick, Casillas made what looked to be a nifty save only to send a rebound straight back into the teeth of the charging Chilean as Aranguiz ran in behind Spain’s wall, collected, and blasted it past Casillas. A difficult sequence, but the kind deflections if not outright saves we’ve come to expect Casillas to make. The free kick was struck well enough but not exceedingly so, and we would expect Casillas to catch it or at least deflect to the side or out of bounds.

Trying to decide whether some of these amount to gaffes versus being the kind of thing that just happens to a keeper from time to time is a tough decision to make. However, the frequency with which they’ve happened in the last month leads to difficult questions if not answers. Is he still the keeper he was two years ago, or has he passed his prime? His market value has plummeted from the £30m range two years ago to something closer to £10m, reflecting concerns about his age and perhaps his performance to boot. Part of this may simply reflect how much Casillas has been run into the ground over the last year, what with Real’s assault on the Champions League and Spain’s international schedule, which seems to have included just about every international event and friendly ever. In his defense, Casillas isn’t the only one who’s looked jaded if not exhausted. Can he recover? Would we still want him? This slump might be enough to convince Casillas that he’s ready for a reduced role, but would he take to it at another club or would it feel too much like a disgrace? We could use a quality keeper, but one who is willing to mentor more than feature. Much as I might wish that Casillas could be the keeper, I worry that his stock has suffered too much. I’d almost rather see him ride off into the sunset rather than ride the bench, here or anywhere.

Or am I making too much of a few bad breaks?

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

submit to reddit

Arsenal: the keeper-incubator

It’s been quite a year for Arsenal’s keepers, what with Szczęsny sharing the Golden Glove with Čech and Fabiański’s role in in winning the FA Cup. Further afield, let’s not overlook Vito Mannone, who might not have ever fully convinced at Arsenal but has more than made a name for himself with Sunderland, having been named their Player of the Year. He’s no longer a Gunner, of course, but owes some part of his development to his time with the club. Taken all together, the three represent an embarrassment of riches at one position—if only it could last.

Conga line? Pecking-order? 

We’ve come a long way from the Seaman days, having suffered Almunia and other fools along the way. Heck, even Fabiański has had to endure his own “flappy hand-ski” reputation, and Szczęsny has committed boneheaded errors in the past. I seem to recall one such moment from Saturday when a certain Polish keeper found himself in no-man’s land against Hull’s Aloko only to see the shot roll harmlessly across an open goal. Fabiański may have stopped a few hearts with that quixotic foray, but, then again, he did stop a few shots just to get us to that position in the first place.

More to the point, each keeper—Szczęsny, Fabiański, and Mannone—spent his formative years at Arsenal and owes his development in no small part to the time they’ve spent here. Mannone joined the club in 2005 age 18), Fabiański in 2007 (age 22), Szczęsny in 2006 (age 16). It’s no mystery why the first two have looked for chances elsewhere as Szczęsny has emerged as the club’s number-one, on his way towards becoming one of the best in England. It’s just not a position that sees much rotation for a variety of reasons, and if we’re training up keepers, they’re naturally going to want to play. There is no shame in seeing themselves eclipsed by the younger Szczęsny. For as much a credit as it is to our keeper coaches, it’s created a bit of a dilemma as Fabiański looks for his next club, with Schalke and Swansea rumored to be among the suitors.

His departure would mean that Damián Martínez is the only other keeper in the squad with first-team experience. Among his more-memorable appearances, for good or bad, would be against in the epic 7-5 win over Reading in last season’s league cup. What this suggests about his readiness to face, say, Man City or Liverpool is left to the imagination. In his defense, first-team chances have been hard to come by, what with the aforementioned trio standing in the way. Even the more-experienced Emiliano Viviano hasn’t seen a minute of action since joining Arsenal on-loan, and he looks to return to Palermo.

Where does this leave us, then? With Fabiański all but out the door and Martínez still not quite ready for prime time, we can ill-afford to go into the 2014-15 campaign with just one experienced keeper. Given the tricky balancing act that we pulled off this season, keeping two quality keepers more or less happy, whom can we find in the transfer-window to reprise Fabiański’s role, that of experienced, dependable (?) keeper who can challenge Szczęsny enough to keep him on his toes, step in when needed, and be content with that role? It’s difficult to imagine a keeper who’s good enough on one hand to step up on an as-needed basis and who’s humble enough to accept such a diminished role. I’m open to suggestions. Any ideas?

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’); submit to reddit

Szczęsny’s 15 sheets in the wind…

Like many of you, I was a bit confused and even disappointed to see that Łukasz Fabiański got the nod over Szczęsny against Norwich, assuming that it would deny Szcz a chance at the Golden Glove. Before the match, he had kept the same number of clean sheets as Chelsea’s Petr Čech but had played more matches, which would hand the award to Čech. However, according to the Premier League’s official twitter account, Čech and Szcz will share the award.

Once I got over my befuddlement, I thought I had come to grips with the decision. After all, an award like this one would might inflate Szczęsny’s ego, and for as much as keepers thrive on confidence, Szczęsny if anything suffers a surfeit of it, so much so that he needed a benching last season to remind him that he’s not irreplaceable and that he must work to earn and keep the #1 spot. He’s been splendid since his return, although there have been a few moments to remind him and us that he’s still learning. I saw this more-recent demotion as another nudge from Arsène that, for as good as he’s become, he’s not at the level on the pitch that he assumes he is in his mind.

Past that, I wondered if Arsène was tipping his hat to Čech, a world-class keeper who arguably deserves the recognition and award more than Szcz does. The man missed Chelsea’s last three matches after injuring his shoulder against Atletico Madrid, and he might very well have earned the award had he faced Norwich or Cardiff. I wouldn’t put it past Arsène to pull a move like this, even if it did benefit Chelsea. Then again, it might be a clever little jibe if Chelsea can only muster up one individual award while Arsenal come through to win the FA Cup. Time will tell. Thanks to Čech, at least Chelsea won’t finish the season empty-handed. Aha. Ha. I promise that will be the only attempt at humor for the rest of the column.

More seriously, though, it turns out that, once again, I have little or no idea what I’m talking about. I know so little, in fact, that I don’t know if  I know little or nothing. It’s a bit of a catch-22. It turns out that Szcz does get to share the Golden Glove, which comes as a surprise to me as I was under the impression that the award could only go to one person. Perhaps Arsène knew ahead of the match that Szcz and Čech would share the award. This would negate the previous suggestion that Szcz was demoted to make sure he didn’t get too big for his britches, but it would make sense as Arsène considers the FA Cup final. Having already stated that Fabiański would play the final, it would be important to give him a warm-up even if Norwich didn’t test him very much. It’s now a month since Fabiański faced Wigan, and even if the Golden Glove were to slip through Szcz’s fingers, certainly the FA Cup means more to the squad than the individual award.

Some are licking their chops at the prospect of facing Hull, who seem to be sinking faster than the Titanic—winless in their last five, it would be easy to assume that they’ll keel over before halftime on Saturday. The freedom that flows from that assumption means that Hull can play without pressure or worry while we fight to overcome not just them but a looonnnggg trophy-drought, not to mention trying to banish a fair few ghosts of past debacles against lower sides. At least Hull’s name doesn’t start with B.

With Fabiański again looking sharp on Sunday, we have to feel that the match is in good hands. This is a keeper who has earned two Man of the Match awards from (against Norwich and Bayern), came up with massive saves against Wigan in the shoot-out, and hasn’t lost an FA Cup match yet. If there’s one complaint to dredge up, it’s that he hasn’t kept a clean sheet in the competition since facing Tottenham in the 3rd round. I’m sure he’ll do his best to set things right on Saturday. Should we bring home the Cup, Arsène’s decision may well prove Solomonic: Szcz gets his award, Fab gets his, and the club claims silverware to cap off the season. Not bad. Not bad at all…

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Who knew that Woj had such exquisite, milky-white hands?

Amid all of the brouhaha around a 19th consecutive St. Totteringham’s Day, we very nearly overlooked another very real trophy on offer, this one available to a player in the squad rather than to the squad itself, although it is a tribute to said squad. I speak of course of one Wojciech Szczesny and the chance he has at winning the Prem’s Golden Glove award, given out each year to the goalie who has kept the most clean-sheets on the season. After Monday’s clean-sheet, Szczesny now has 15 clean sheets. With two matches to play, he’d need two clean sheets to surpass the current leader and two-time winner, Petr Cech and his 16 clean-sheets. Along the way, though, he has to outpace Tim Howard, who has kept 15 clean sheets of his own.

At first blush, the idea seems ludicrous. In a season that saw him concede six goals twice and five goals once, how could he be a contender for the Golden Glove? Well, it rewards clean-sheets, not goals conceded, and by that score, Szczesny is right in the thick of the race. Say what you will about what this suggests about the nature of the award or of statistics, I see it as a confirmation of the idea that we have in Szczesny one of the best keepers in the Prem. We can drop the modifier ‘young’ for the moment. Cech and Howard, after all, are both the other side of 30, and Szczesny is competing directly with them, not just for this award but for the deeper respect that lies beyond. Set aside those three horrific outings, and Szczesny has a goals-conceded tally that matches Cech’s. Of course, we can’t just ignore those three, but when the wheels come off as they did, it’s a bit churlish to lay all of the blame at the keeper’s feet. Or hands, as it were.

We’ll come back to that in minute. First, let’s sort out how the Golden Glove gets awarded. It goes to one player, unlike the Golden Boot, which can get shared. The keeper who keeps the most clean sheets wins it. The number of goals he concedes elsewhere doesn’t matter. Keep 20 clean sheeets but concede four goals per game in the other 18, and you’ll probably win it anyway. With the three contenders so close to each other on that score, it’s worth considering the tie-break: ratio of clean-sheets to games played. It’s here that Szczesny’s near-perfect attendance may count against him. With Cech possibly missing Chelsea’s last four matches due to injury, and with Howard having missed a match due to a red-card suspension, they might each emerge with ratios superior to Szczesny’s. The only way for him to win the award, then, is to keep clean sheets in our remaining two matches while hoping that Howard fails to do the same. Cech is locked in at 16 clean sheets in 34 appearances, a ratio of .47. For Szczesny to reach 16 clean sheets, he’ll have to play a 37th match, finishing with a ratio of .43. Advantage: Cech.

Cech’s disadvantage, of course, is that he may not get a chance to add to his number of clean-sheets if his dislocated shoulder has in fact ended his season. He may have to watch on as Howard and Szczesny duke it out. With Everton about to face a Man City squad with eyes on getting level with Liverpool, it’s hard to see Howard keeping a clean sheet there. They’ve scored in 13 consecutive Prem matches, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, not when they might need goal-differentials to win the league. After that, Everton face Hull, who should be safe from relegation by then. Beyond that, Hull might be focusing on the FA Cup final. Each of these, not to mention Hull’s somewhat toothless offense, suggest that Howard will get his 16th clean sheet (if not his 17th).

It’s all in Szczesny’s hands, then. Keep clean sheets against West Brom and Norwich, and that Golden Glove is his. Let one goal slip, and the Golden Glove falls through his fingers to Howard or Cech.It may lack the history or character of the Golden Boot, but it would still testify to the winner’s quality in much the same way. As with so many individual honors, it is a credit to the entire squad, especially those in front of the keeper, when so many clean-sheets are claimed. Without disrespecting Cech in any way, though, I do think that Howard and Szczesny merit special recognition, as they don’t play for managers who will park the bus as stubbornly as Mourinho does. That said, where would Szczesny be without a careless, stray goal conceded here or there? Even if he doesn’t quite claim this Golden Glove, Szczesny’s season has been a remarkable one, one that announces his arrival as one of the best keepers in the Prem. He’s 24. For Howard or for Cech, the award would mark a pinnacle of sorts. For Szczesny, it would announce an arrival.

There was a moment against Newcastle when Szczesny came off his line a bit too casually, risking the kind of howler that we’ve seen just a bit too often from our keepers. The moment passed without incident, but it was enough to remind us that, for as good (and, at times, great) as he’s been, there is still some growing to do. Last season, that was a criticism against the lad. This season and next, though, that’s a challenge to the man.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+’://’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);