Written by Gooner in Exile
With the season fast approaching and yet another summer passing without the departure of Almunia and without the arrival of the much craved experienced custodian I thought it would be a good time to assess our current goalkeeping line up against the rest of the top four wannabes.
So let’s look at our current crop first.
Szczesny – aged 21 – this lad is the real deal in my opinion. A good communicator, confident to come for the high ball, and an excellent starfish approach to deal with one on ones. There are still a couple of areas for improvement one is decision making under pressure the mad rush out for a 50:50 through ball which will come with experience. The other is his kicking which again will come with age and strength development but is such a necessity in the modern game, especially as we as a team so often lose the fifty-fifty ball that the kick needs to be competed twenty yards past halfway line rather than on it.
At 6ft 5 he provides an imposing figure in the goal although for me I would like to see him fill out a bit as a bit of extra padding for a goalkeeper is useful when being challenged in mid air.
One thing that does not appear to be an issue is his confidence, he appears to have an arrogant streak about him, which all the best keepers need, even after the Carling cup final he came back to give a good display against Sunderland before being injured against Barca. It is these moments of error where only the keeper is to blame and how the keeper responds to it that truly separates the great from the good keepers.
Half a season of top flight football under the belt will have benefited him. Perhaps the best thing that has been said about him was from his Brentford manager Andy Scott during his loan spell during 2009-10. “It has reached the stage where when he lets in a goal we wonder why he hasn’t saved it.”
Fabianski age 26 – I believe he has had enough chances, whilst his general keeping improved last season there is still an underlying weakness in his basics, in my opinion he snatches at the ball which leaves him vulnerable to fumbling it, and for me is too jumpy on his feet.
The only keeper around our rivals that I could liken him to is Gomes, the same scruffiness to the style of keeping which concerns me when watching. He is 6ft 3 but somehow he manages to make himself look 5ft 9.
Mannone – aged 23, again not good enough for the Nunber One shirt although he is a good shot stopper. Like Szczesny he seems to have an unwavering confidence. Last season on loan at Hull he received some good reports bit unfortunately his appearances were cut short by injuries.
So that’s our bunch I’ve left out Manuel because he as we all know has had his day. I think despite that Szczesny has been given squad number 13 for the forthcoming season that he will be first choice, although I expect Wenger to make plenty of noise that Fabianski is still in the running to keep the younger of the two Poles in check throughout the season.
So what about our rivals?
Manchester United, after losing Van Der Saar who has been unquestionably the best keeper in the league for the last three or four seasons Ferguson has decided to invest in youth. He has signed the 20 year old De Gea, however the noises coming out of Old Trafford are not resoundingly positive. Ferguson has signed him it appears because he feels he missed out on Cech at a similar age due to worrying about age.
The goalkeeping coach has cast some doubt on his decision making saying he expected him to come for a high ball that led to a conceded goal in a pre season friendly, a view Ferguson shared before retracting his comments and saying he didn’t think he had a chance with the goal. Additionally Ferguson has questioned his physical build. He is not a fluent English speaker and therefore will have a communication issue.
With Kuszczak requesting a move away from Old Trafford Ferguson is left with Anders Lindergard (27) and the young Ben Amos (20) as cover should De Gea be left out for any reason. I think United have left themselves remarkably exposed in this area.
Chelsea have Cech who has never recovered the form he showed before his unfortunate collision with Hunt’s shin (accidental my arse). He still remains one of the best shot stoppers in the league but his timidness in aerial duels since that injury has led to Chelsea looking more vulnerable from set pieces. Like Ferdinand and Vidic, Terry and teammates have never looked comfortable with anyone else behind them, so for them an injury to Cech would leave them fielding Turnbull or Hilario, Hilario has often been called upon and found wanting, Turnbull has less experience but is probably second choice. Combined Hilario and Turnbull they have made 26 appearances in five years.
Spurs have signed the ageing Friedel, whilst last season he continued to defy his age with superb performances for Villa he is not getting any younger, older goalkeepers hit an age where everything looks great one day and two weeks later the age starts to tell and the injuries mount up. Gomes always makes me smile as despite some great shot stopping he is always prone to an error or two. As extra cover they have Cudicini who I would have liked to see us sign when Lehman departed.
The Twitcher has assembled an experienced group of goalkeepers but only Cudicini has ever set the world alight on the top level and at 37 his best days are behind him as he proved last year. His game was all about shot stopping and agility, you just can’t keep that going into your late thirties as a keeper and to survive at the top level you need to rely on your mind more than your body.
Man City have Joe Hart who benefited from a season long loan in with Birmingham to return to City last season and capture the starting slot. He is probably the most complete young goalkeeper in this crop and will go on to be one of the best England has produced. With Given left for Villa the only cover at Eastlands is provided by ex Arsenal trainee Stuart Taylor, who at the age of 30 has never found a regular Number One berth that he desired when he left. The other backup is Neilsen. Like Chelsea reserve keepers these two have only a handful of games at the top flight and any serious injury to Hart would leave them also exposed.
Liverpool still have Reina who Carragher has called the best goalkeeper in the world (after gifting us an equaliser at the start of last season) despite not even being Spain’s number one. I think he is good in every aspect of keeping but he is not great in any. As an ever present he has also prevented the reserve keepers any game time so if any injury occurs they would also be exposed to fielding Brad Jones or the untested Doni.
Having taken a more detailed look at the goalkeepers among our closest rivals it is difficult to see why our goalkeeping options are so maligned. It is without doubt a fact that we have not had a number one since Lehman good enough for the level we compete at. However take the main keeper away from City, Chelsea or Liverpool and they look very vulnerable, Spurs have assembled a group of experienced but hardly world class keepers and United find themselves in a similar position to us, except they have spent a lot more acquiring the group.
I hope that Szczesny continues to improve and we can finally put the goalkeeping question to bed and be safe in the knowledge we have a keeper for the next ten to fifteen years who we can trust. What I would ask of Wenger is that our young keepers coming through are sent on loan to other Premier League clubs as for keepers the only place to learn is at the sharp end, and I’d rather that it be at the expense of WBA or Wigan than for us.