I recall watching the Arsenal vs Man City pre-season clash in the pub and complaining to anyone who would listen. Not because of the result or performance, we won fairly comfortably, or due to the lack of transfers completed at that stage. It was because I didn’t trust Szczesny or Fabianski to perform consistently between the posts this season. A gulf in class between our first and second choice goalkeeper was my main concern.
When you’re linked in the press with the likes of Champions League winners Casillas and Julio Cesar, it’s hard not to see signings of that quality and experience as an improvement. Arsene Wenger was reluctant to bring in a top class goalkeeper to replace Szczesny. Was this a sign that Fabianski was ready to step up and challenge for the number 1 spot? Did Wenger see a new animal in Szczesny?
Whatever he saw, his decision to trust the two Polish goalkeepers has paid off extremely well. Many Arsenal fans will agree that it was always a gamble not to strengthen effectively in that position but just as gambling can leave you with egg on your face when it goes wrong, when you get it right the rewards are extremely fruitful.
The result of this trust has seen Szczesny look solid, calm and controlling in the box. Sure he still has an error in him, think the hashed clearance against Newcastle which hit Remy and rolled just wide. However, he is far more assured and is a reliable number 1 particularly when he has Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gibbs sitting in front of him.
When it comes to shot stopping the big Pole is a class act. An opinion highlighted by the point blank save from Van Persie’s header at the Emirates earlier this season. Accuse me of bias, but that was probably my save of the season.
Any piece on the Arsenal number 1 needs a mention of the number 2 who has been an excellent deputy for 18 months and a loyal servant with only minimal game time under his belt.
Now, where to begin talking about Lukasz Fabianski. The 2-0 win at the Allianz? The penalty performance against Wigan at Wembley? With only 76 first team appearances in his 7 years at Arsenal the Pole has come into himself and the above mentioned performances stand out as his most memorable moments in an Arsenal shirt (positive moments at least).
A number of injuries may have halted his progress or even pushed him to become the player he is now. Confident, reliable, a great shot stopper and a useful addition to any team able to snap him up in the summer (rumours suggest a move to Schalke is imminent).
He has come on leaps and bounds from the ‘Flappyhandski’ jibes and a series of comical gaffes. Twitter went into anarchy when Szczesny was dropped for the second leg against Bayern last year. But that sparked the Fabianski revival and brought out the best in his Polish counterpart. I’m sure most Arsenal fans aren’t nervous when Fabianski appears in the starting line-up anymore.
As the fourth place trophy could be pretty much wrapped up with a win against the Toon, the bigger picture is about ending the trophy drought. So does Szczesny or Fabianski start? There is merit for either choice. Fabianski deserves it after his FA Cup performances this season but Szczesny has been solid all season. I have no qualms about either starting against Hull at Wembley. Romanticism will be at play regardless of who starts on May 17th.
If Szczesny starts and Arsenal win, he will have overcome his Wembley cup final demons (Carling Cup Final vs Birmingham, 2011). If Fabianski starts and Arsenal win, he leaves on a high as a hero cemented after his semi-final performance.
My doubt and lack of confidence at the start of the season regarding the goalkeeper situation was misguided. Fabianski has pushed Szczesny, who has improved considerably in the past year. When the new season starts, Fabianski’s replacement will need to able to push Szczesny just as hard in order to get the best from him. Will it be a big name or a young goalkeeper with massive potential? Who knows!
One thing I’m convinced of now is that Szczesny and Fabianski aren’t Poles apart. Have your say on the goalkeepers in our comment section below!
Photo by Marcus Hansson