Goalkeepers are considered to be the strangest guys among those eleven on the pitch. Their clothes are different than those their outfield team-mates wear, they are usually the tallest or among the tallest guys in the team and they can go through perfect matches for 99,99 percent of the match but if they make a wrong call after an opponents corner or free-kick, they will be marked as tragic figure.
A goalkeepers’ position is opposite in more than one way to one of an attacker. Goalkeepers won’t be judged by the number of saved opportunities but by the number of goals conceded – attackers will be judged by the number of scored goals, not by number of chances they missed.
It takes really dominant 10 outfield players to compensate for a lack of commanding and experienced goalkeepers that can save point(s) for his team. Good example is the Spanish Supercup 2012 between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Real Madrid won it on away goals and importance of a goalkeeper was demonstrated in the first leg in Barcelona – Iker Casillas made a great save to prevent Barcelona taking 4-1 lead and in the next attack Real Madrid scored thanks to a horrible attempt of dribbling by the Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes. That away goal scored by Angel Di Maria in the final outcome earned Real Madrid a trophy. Aforementioned Casillas is maybe the best example of a silverware-winning goalkeeper.
He is 31 but has managed to win two Champions’ Leagues, two European Championships, one World Cup and six La Ligas with Real Madrid. He wasn’t an ordinary member of the team in none of these trophies – his save of Arjen Robben’s sitter against Holland in the World Cup final is just an example of how crucial Casillas was for Spain. He saved two penalties in the shoot-out against Italy at EURO 2008, a penalty during the match against Paraguay while the score was 0-0 (Spain won 1-0) at World Cup 2010 and Mandžukić’s header against Croatia in the group stage at 0-0 (Spain won 1-0).
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Oliver Kahn too was a crucial player of the Bayern side that won the Champions’ League in 2001 and the mediocre German national team that managed to reach the final of the World Cup 2002. Alex Ferguson went through some comical attempts to find a replacement for Peter Schmeichel, the goalkeeper that saved Zamorano’s point-blank header in Quarterfinals against Inter Milan and, unfortunately, Bergkamp’s late penalty in the FA Cup semifinals.
He finally managed to find replacement in the experienced Edwin Van der Sar, former Champions’ League winner with Ajax. The Dutch goalkeeper made less saves than his heir David De Gea but he didn’t have to – Van der Sar organized the defense and controlled his box so well that opponents had very few chances. Still, Van der Sar managed to add saves like that one in the Champions’ League penalty shoot-out against Chelsea and Nicolas Anelka in 2008. Similar stories can be told about Čech and Buffon, two out of the three best goalkeepers of the decade. Our dearest example is, of course, signing of Jens Lehmann after a rather disappointing 2002-03 with Seaman well past his prime.
The German goalkeeper was called Mad Jens but he could’ve been called Mad Janus as well since he showed both good and bad face of extraordinary goalkeeping but he gave a decent contribution to Les Invincibles, he made a number of saves including the crucial save in penalty shoot-out in FA Cup final in 2005 and Riquelme’s late penalty in Semifinals of Champions’ League in 2006. It’s not just teams that want to win silverware need excellent goalkeepers but all teams that want to over-achieve need special men between the sticks. For example, it is very hard to imagine Wigan would stay up last season if Roberto Martinez couldn’t count on the excellent performances from Ali Al Habsi.
Now, it is logical to ask the question – are our men in gloves good enough to win us silverware that we have been waiting for seven years?
Wojciech Szczesny is our No.1, given that he is fit. The Polish international goalkeeper had some rough times in our goal in the past few years. He was the one that was between the sticks when we lost 8-2 at Old Trafford, 4-3 at Ewood Park and drew against Norwich 3-3 last season (that draw nearly took away the Champions’ League spot from us) while Laurent Koscielny was his accomplice in that horrible blunder in the League Cup Final against Birmingham City that cost us a trophy two seasons ago. However, he gave some excellent performances for us like the one against Liverpool at Anfield last season when we got an undeserved 2-1 victory. He has great reflexes and positioning while his kicking can improve.
He is injured and Mannone has done surprisingly well while the Pole is absent, so it will be interesting to see whether Wenger will give his trust to Szczesny or Mannone when both of them are available. Szczesny made an error in his last competitive match against Southampton, while his EURO 2012 campaign wasn’t very nice since he was sent off in the opening match against Greece. Szczesny is only 22-years-old and there are very few goalkeepers of his age with his experience of living with pressure that is an every day routine when you play for a big European club. What he needs to prove is his worth as a future world-class goalkeeper by winning a trophy with Arsenal and contributing in that trophy.
Lukasz Fabianski started as our No.2 goalkeeper but injuries and Mannone’s performances probably have demoted him to 3rd place in the pecking order. Fabianski is already 27 with 8 months left on his contract with Arsenal and it is most likely the Polish international is going to leave Arsenal on the Bosman rule in the summer transfer window in order to find regular first team football.
His performances were going from one extreme to another – he was capable of producing great performances like one when we won 3-0 at the Etihad in 2010 but also making blunders like those against Porto in the Champions’ League or Newcastle when we lost 0-1 at home thanks to a Andy Carroll’s goal. I think it would be the best for Fabianski, Arsenal and the Polish national team if Fabianski finds a club in January.
Goalkeepers lasts longer than other players but when you’re 27 and went through season without making a single first-team appearance in the Premiership, you’re not a hot prospect for the future anymore. A goalkeeper must provide confidence to other members of the team, especially to other members of defense. Fabianski didn’t prove he can provide that to his team-mates.
The story about Vito Mannone is opposite to the one of Fabianski. He wasn’t exactly someone that we put our hopes on. He featured rarely in Arsenal matches in previous seasons and a comical blunder in Athens against Olympiacos in 2011 was the only thing that he was remembered for. However, his loan spell at Hull last season obviously worked wonders for Mannone’s confidence. He has still made mistakes though – he should take at least part of the blame for Lescott’s goal in the City match and Mata’s goal in the Chelsea fixture – but he remained confident after those mistakes.
His kicking is decent while his positioning seems to be unreal. I don’t know if he has magnets in his gloves or he if he is a favourite target for opponents but some of his saves (Belhanda’s sitter in Montpellier, Carroll’s header in West Ham match, a few shots from Liverpool players) came after opponents put the ball straight into his gloves from very close range. He is not as tall as Szczesny and so controlling of the box is not his strongest side. His contract is set to expire in 20 months. The Joaquin-Phoenix-lookalike* is 24 and so far it seems he can be reliable No.2 goalkeeper.
Conclusion: this is a season in which Szczesny should take big part in a trophy-winning mission. It won’t be easy and it could sound too harsh on him but this season will give us an answer whether Wenger should put faith in current goalkeepers or he should look for reinforcement in that area next summer.
* – Did anyone else notice how many look-a-likes Arsenal players have among actors? Per Mertesacker-Reed Diamond, Olivier Giroud-James Roday, Vito Mannone-Joaquin Phoenix, Mikel Arteta-Nestor Carbonell…