Monday 24 July 2017

Wenger finds a real 'keeper' in assured debutant Szczesny

Jeremy Wilson

There are a variety of explanations for Arsene Wenger's failure to buy a goalkeeper this summer.

From accusations of being a stubborn spendthrift to simply having a blind spot in his assessment of the position, most theories start from the assumption that Wenger has made a mistake.

But another very sizeable factor has been swirling around the Arsenal manager's mind. He is 6ft 5in tall, just 20 years old and his name is Wojciech Szczesny.

Until last night, he had never played even a minute of a Premier League game.

Yet it was still the presence of Szczesny that helped persuade Wenger to focus his attentions during the summer on older goalkeepers, such as Mark Schwarzer, who would only occupy the position in the short term.

The sense that Szczesny was Wenger's big long-term goalkeeping hope has been obvious ever since he excelled while playing on loan in League One with Brentford last season. In 28 appearances, Szczesny registered 10 clean sheets to leave Andy Scott, the Brentford manager, convinced that he was destined for greatness.

"It reached the stage where, when he let a goal in, we wondered how he hadn't saved it," said Scott.

As well as the obvious physical attributes, Szczesny had the advantage of being the son of Maciej Szczesny, a former Poland international, and was recruited by Arsenal at the age of just 16.

When still only a teenager, Wenger said: "We have identified Wojciech as a future great, great goalkeeper. When you think it is a goal with him, it is still no goal. He makes unbelievable saves.

Confidence

"He has all the qualities you want from a goalkeeper. That means a good basic confidence level. He is very brave, fantastic size, very agile and his speed in his reflexes is absolutely unbelievable. I really believe that he will one day be Arsenal's number one."

The only surprise is that it should be happening so quickly. After all, in Edwin van der Sar, he was going head to head last night against a goalkeeper twice his age.

Wenger will diplomatically point to minor injuries to both Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia in explaining his selection of Szczesny, but it is understood that the two more senior goalkeepers both regarded themselves as fit to start.

The future for Almunia looks bleak. He has missed much of the season due to an elbow injury and it is surely instructive that, since making a costly mistake against West Brom, his only appearance has been for the reserves.

Put bluntly, some of Almunia's performances over the past year have pointed to a personal crisis of confidence.

The opposite would appear to be the case with Szczesny. Indeed, before signing a contract extension earlier this season, he even vocally complained at not being first choice. Szczesny's self-belief is also evident on his Twitter account and it was from this forum that he recently reminded Arsenal fans of the clean sheets in his three first-team appearances in the Carling Cup.

Last night, he seemed generally unfazed by the big occasion. His first meaningful touch was a convincing catch from Nani's cross and, with Manchester United clearly keen to provide some early tests of his nerve, he dealt with several powerful Rooney shots before making an important second-half save from Anderson.

His distribution was also sound and his general demeanour was of a player who felt like he belonged on the grandest stage.

He may just have drifted too far from his line for Ji-Sung Park's goal, but the credit really belonged to the finish of the Manchester United midfielder. From Szczesny's point of view, what really mattered was that such a high-profile debut should end without a debilitating mistake. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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