Szczesny about the opportunity of gaining valuable first team experience in the lower leagues.
“The loan to Brentford will be good for you, Wojciech?”.
“No, Bob..... I will be good for them.”
That tale cemented my love for the man long before his first team place at Arsenal had set. An endearing arrogance, which was soon justified as an extended loan spell came to an end with the Brentford manager singing Szczesny’s praises just as loudly as he sang his own: “It has reached the stage where, when he lets in a goal, we wonder why he hasn’t saved it.”
Thankfully, the collective inadequacy and injuries of those who went before him parted the way for Szczesny to make his mark at Arsenal just before the frustrations of being third of fourth in a queue with inferiors forced him to be brilliant elsewhere. (After being omitted from a Carling Cup squad at Spurs he moaned to the Polish press about Arsène Wenger seeming to “forget he has a goalkeeper named Wojciech Szczesny”.)
That’s hard to imagine now. You don’t win anything with a keeper without presence, and we haven’t. Despite his youth Wojciech immediately showed an authority that had been lacking for too long. Teams were pumping balls into the Arsenal box with a high percentage of probability that Almunia or Fabianski would misjudge the flight horribly or be bullied into throwing the ball into their own net. Every corner or free kick conceded was a threat that had Gooners covering their eyes in fear.
It was a soft spot that Szczesny has hardened. He dominates his area in a way his predecessors could only dream of. In one-on- one situations he spreads himself Schmeichel- like to such an effect that his huge frame daunts the forward and reduces the opportunity. When he first broke through, having made his league debut at Old Trafford, his kicking was clearly something that had to be improved in both distance and placement. He realised and corrected this to such an extent that a year later it goes unnoticed.
As well as commanding his box through an everincreasing presence, his stature in the team now is
He constantly talks to his defenders, who listen where Manuel would have been ignored such that he picks team-mates up and puts them down where ever he wants them to be in order to defend a set-piece. He constantly talks to his defenders, who listen where Manuel would have been ignored. They listen because they trust him and because their own games have improved ten percent, free of the worry of having to cover for the incapabilities behind them.
He will of course make mistakes. His share of blame for the Carling Cup final fiasco with Koscielny was an early test of character which he has dusted off. (So too has the Frenchman.) The supreme confidence he exudes is not fragile. An error of judgement does not affect him so much that it will be repeated through worry the following week; he has enough credit already in the bank to be forgiven and enough confidence in himself to forget.
We finally have a goalkeeper who actually ‘keeps’ goal, one that will save us points rather than cost them. The crucial penalty stop in Udinese with the scores level could have been the difference between the Champions League and the poxy Europa League. The point-blank block from Cattermole at the E******s saw him preventing goals that he really has no right to, despite uncharacteristically playing it down himself: “It’s not a good save, it’s a poor finish, he’s three yards out.”
In the summer of 2010 anyone would do. Any keeper would improve us. In the winter of 2011 Arsenal goalkeepers have come full circle. Such is the class and long-term potential of Wojciech Szczesny that I wouldn’t swap him for any other.
That keeper we wanted? We’ve got him, and for the next fifteen years.