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Monday, 21 May 2012

Squad Review Part One - Goalkeepers

Fabianski - on his way

It's time for the annual squad review. It will be split in to four parts, with goalkeepers first, then defenders, midfielders and strikers. I will be assessing the season of every player have been in and around the first-team at some point in the campaign. There won't be any "scores" given to players as I don't quite see the point.

Wojciech Szczesny
Wearing number thirteen (for some reason) but clearly the undisputed number one at Arsenal. Szczesny actually had an in-and-out kind of season, which is perhaps to be expected of someone so young, playing in goal. When we were being battered at the start of the season it was interesting that Szczesny was getting the plaudits in the form of "player of the month" awards. You wonder how bad things might have been had the big Pole not hit the ground running this season.
Szczesny is obviously an extremely confident person, and this is absolutely necessary for a goalkeeper. I believe it was no coincidence, however, that his best form came when we weren't hearing from him at all in the press or on Arsenal's website. He also shut down his prolific Twitter account. When he got a bit more publicly vocal again at the end of the season his form dipped badly again, and his performance against Norwich was as bad as anything we've seen fro the other 'keepers in the squad.
All in all Szczesny can be pleased with his first full season as first-choice at Arsenal. He is still learning, and is the sort of the footballer who will know his weaknesses and what he has to work on. I am concerned that he makes mistakes in games where it really seems to matter, and only time will tell if he has a problem with his temperament which is masked by a natural bravado. He also gets beaten time and again from direct free-kicks because he continually lines himself up on one side of the goal - David Seaman did that once, but never again. There's plenty to learn for Szczesny, but hopefully he has a lot of time at Arsenal to put it all together.

Lukas Fabianski
We've seen precious little of Fabianski this season. The fact that Szczesny has apparently carried an injury through the last five weeks of the season, yet Fabianski still didn't get a look in, tells us that Arsene Wenger had lost any faith in our other Polish stopper.
Fabianski will look back at the previous season and see his own shoulder problem as a moment of particularly poor luck. He had seemingly established himself ahead of Almunia with a very good run of performances. The supporters still were very unsure of him though, given his past, and the defence still seemed to lack of confidence in him. As soon as Szczesny got in I think the writing was on the wall for Fabianski. I expected him to leave last Summer in search of playing time, and he has made it clear he wants to go now. I don't blame him for wanthing to leave Arsenal, and I wish him all the best.

Vito Mannone
The only other goalkeeper to play for Arsenal this season, Mannone is unlikely to be here next season. He came on as a sub for the injured Fabianski in the dead rubber at Olympiakos. It's fair to say that he didn't cover himself in glory, and also managed to get injured in the match. I saw Mannone play in pre-season for the Reserves and he looked really assured and confident. He was coming for crosses and dominating his penalty area. When put in to the pressure situation of playing proper football he looked meek and lacking in that confidence.
Another loan spell at Hull City has been highly successful for Vito. It is no surprise that he wants to go an play elsewhere as he can get regular first-team football. Being young he will still make mistakes, and he lacks the natural ability of Szczesny. I think he'll have a decent career in the lower divisions, or back in Italy. I don't expect him to be back here next season.

Manuel Almunia
There was a lot of funny stuff going on with Almunia last season. He was actually being treated badly by Wenger for a lot of the time, even having to train on his own at times. When Fabianski and Mannone were injured he had no choice but to bring Manuel back in to the fold. He was on the bench a lot this season, and I fully expected him to play in the FA Cup game against Leeds. Wenger was determined, for some reason, that he wouldn't play unless in extremis, so he put Szczesny in and made Martinez his sub for the evening.
Before Christmas Almunia went on loan to West Ham where he played in place of the injured Robert Green. I don't agree with Arsenal doing anything to help Sam Allardyce, so it was a move that annoyed me. Manuel did okay there, and there was talk of a deal being done at one point. Arsenal's shortage of goalkeepers probably scuppered that, but he is now being released to get on with his career.
Almunia ultimately lacked the ability to be first-choice at a Club like Arsenal. He was clearly a very popular member of the squad, and is a good friend of Robin Van Persie. When you're only "crime" is being not quite good enough, then I think you have nothing to be ashamed of. I certainly wish Almunia all the very best for the future.

Damien Martinez
This time last year Martinez was called up to the Argentina squad for their end of season campaign. He is very highly rated and made the bench for some Carling Cup action, and for the FA Cup match with Leeds (as mentioned above). His season finished with a one match emergency loan at Oxford United. Having established himself as the regular goalkeeper in the Reserves, I can see Martinez being promoted to the first-team squad next season as third-choice, but maybe a loan spell will do him a lot of good. If he fulfils his promise he could become genuine competition to Szczesny in the next two years.

James Shea
Shea was loaned to Dagenham early in the season in order to replace his coach, Tony Roberts, who had retired from playing to take up a full-time post at Arsenal. He had been playing for the Daggers but was called back to Arsenal when Fabianski and Mannone got injured in Athens. That was pretty much the end of his season, apart from a few Reserve games. I would be surprised if James Shea was an Arsenal player next season - he is highly unlikely to ever play for the first-team.

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