How we compare – Vol 1: Goalkeeper

More titles than Almunia

Until recent years, in my lifetime, Arsenal had always had a solid number 1. The earliest goalkeeper I can remember is John Lukic. From my memory, he never really let us down (in either spell at the club). Then George Graham signed David Seaman from Queens Park Rangers and for a decade we had one of the best and most consistent Goalkeepers this country has ever seen.

Safehands

We replaced the pony-tailed legend, after we sold him to Manchester City, with Jens Lehman. I’m not going to go into our various No.2 ‘s during this period, but it is worth noting that in the 2001/02 season we had three goalkeepers (Dave Seaman, Stuart Taylor & Richard Wright) who all picked up Premier League winners medals. This means they would’ve had to play at least 10 league games. Jen’s (god bless him) was as mad as a box of frogs on Angel Dust, but a competent goalkeeper. I suppose being behind a back four led by the imperious Sol Campbell would have helped, but Jens (although susceptible to the odd clanger) was solid enough. He was no Dave Seaman, but he was a part of ‘The Invincible’s’ and that can’t be underestimated. His constant bitching and moaning if (heaven forbid) an opposing player stood within five foot of him was irritating, but was an endearing imperfection we grew to love.

Ze German

In recent years, however, our goalkeeping situation has become some sort of punch line to our lack of silverware. I must admit, until last season, I always thought Manuel Almunia was a competent number two. That combined with Lukas Fabianski who, although capable of amazing saves, is equally likely to ‘throw one in’ as they say.

Oh dear...

 Last year we saw the emergence of another Young Pole who has gone a long way to re-establish Gooners faith in their stopper. I remember seeing Wojciech Szczesny for the reserves as a 17 year old and thinking, ‘This guy could be special’. I wasn’t expecting it so soon though. Not without his early drama’s, Wojciech broke both of his arms (not good for a goalkeeper) in a freak accident lifting weights. He’s a little bit arrogant and a little bit mad. He endeared himself to Arsenal fans everywhere in the North London Derby at WHL last season by polaxing Gareth Bale  (fairly) and giving Johan Djourou a cheeky wink afterwards.

 He’s got a Physical presence; I think he’s 6’ 5″ tall! He’s vocal, I’ve heard him shout at the defence from the upper tier at the Emirates (hopefully that’s not too much of an indictment of our fans). One of his most impressive attributes though, has to be how un-fazed he seems to be by what’s going on around him. This is particularly impressive when working behind our current defence. I think he could go on to be a really impressive goalkeeper, world class even.

 So, where does this compare us to our rivals in the Premier League? I’m going to narrow it down to what is now being called the big 6:

Firstly there are our local rivals. Gomes has dropped more clangers in the last couple of years than Almunia and Fabianski put together, although he would always end up having a blinder against us. Arthur Daley….er, I mean Harry Redknapp has brought in American Brad Friedel on a free transfer. Now Friedel is a proven Premiership quality goalkeeper, but he is now the wrong side of forty and surely must have his best days behind him. Arsenal are better off.

Liverpool have Pepe Reina, who has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the Premier League in the last 4-5 years. Arsenal (apparently) tried to sign him this time last year, but Liverpool gave us the all too familiar Foxtrot Oscar. His blooper against us on the opening day of the season at Anfield last season was just a blip, and he remains a top quality keeper. At the moment, I think Liverpool are better off. Though I feel young Wojciech has the potential to be better than the Spaniard.

 In May 2006, Man City paid £500,000 (rising to a maximum of 1.5 million) to Shrewsbury for Joe Hart. He has since established himself as the Citizen’s and England’s number 1. He has a lot of talent. In fact, he has a lot of similarities to Szczesny. He too is 6’5″; he’s very vocal and has a good presence. He is (as any young goalkeeper is) prone to the odd mistake, but has the potential to be world class. Playing regularly in a top side is sure to accelerate his progression. His parallel’s with Wojciech are extremely close. At the moment I don’t think there’s much between them, but on experience you’d have to give it to Hart, but he has almost 5 years on Szczesny!

In Petr Cech, Chelsea have (arguably) the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. A couple of seasons ago it looked like the high standards he had set himself had dropped, but last season saw him return to top form again. Since Van Der Sar retired at the end of last season, Cech (in my opinion) is now the keeper all others are looking up to.

Manchester United’s new number 1 is the biggest unknown to the Premier League this year. De Gea, the young Spanaird, certainly comes with a big reputation for such a young man. To be honest, from what I’ve seen of him, he looks like a really good prospect. That said, he’s never played in the Premier League, and Szczesny has! I personally (although I’m sure fans of other clubs may disagree, even though they’ve hardly seen anything of him) think there is not too much between the Pole and the Spaniard right now.

Essentially, as you may have gathered, I’m happy with Szczesny as our number 1. I do feel, however, that we should bring in an experienced number 2 as back up. This is not as easy as it sounds. If an experienced keeper is getting first team football somewhere, it’s not easy to convince him to come and be an understudy to a young upstart. That said, the pull of coming to Arsenal Football Club should not be underestimated. I think Wenger will stick with Fabianski as our number 2 for this season, and maybe keeping Mannone as third choice (although he may try and force a move if he is that far down the pecking order).

It’s quite a gamble making such a young keeper your number 1, but as the saying goes; ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. Have a look how old Iker Cassillas was when he started in goal at Real Madrid. We have to accept he might make the odd mistake, but his class will show through in the end. Wojciech Szczesny could have a long, illustrious career to come at Arsenal.

Thanks for reading.

Big Dave

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