How do you Solve a Problem Like Wojciech Szczesny?

In 2010, Arsene Wenger made the surprising decision to start Wojciech Szczesny at Old Trafford. Arsenal lost 1-0 to Manchester United, but Arsenal fans were able to see the main positive coming out of that game; it seemed that the Arsenal goalkeeper crisis had been solved. Between the departure of Jens Lehmann and that day in Manchester, Arsenal did not have a goalkeeper capable of helping Arsenal challenge for the title: Vito Mannone was young and inexperienced; Lukasz Fabianski just didn’t seem up to the physical game; Manuel Almunia was, quite frankly, not very good. However, it finally seemed that Arsenal had a goalkeeper capable of commanding his area and not making the silly mistakes which had plagued Arsenal’s season until that point.

I remember being delighted that Szczesny was given a chance that day, as I had been desperate to see him play ever since Arsenal threw away a 2-0 lead to lose at home to Tottenham Hotspur for the first time since 1993. However, the maturity he showed in the next eighteen months were far beyond anything I could’ve dreamed of.

Though Lukasz Fabianski started Arsenal’s next game at home to Chelsea, Szczesny eventually made the goalkeeping spot in the starting eleven his own. Arsenal’s 2011 was nothing short of a disaster, but the Pole was rarely at fault for the series of poor results which occurred between the end of the 2010-11 season and the end of January in 2012. However, there was one catastrophic moment for Szczesny in that time.

In the Carling Cup final against Birmingham, where Arsenal were looking to end a six year trophy drought, the score was locked at 1-1 in the 89th minute, and it looked like the game was destined for extra time. A failed Birmingham ball into the Arsenal area resulted in what looked like a routine save for Szczesny, but Laurent Koscielny lost his composure and tried to clear the ball. However, he missed the ball, causing the ball to bounce out of the goalkeeper’s hands and into the path of Obafemi Martins, who scored an easy finish to win the match and give Birmingham City their first ever silverware. There were worries that this error would wreck the confidence of Wojciech, but he is a confident man, and he soon recovered from the Birmingham disaster.

The 2011-12 season was an excellent one for Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal struggled for form in the first half of the season, and conceded quite a few goals in that time, including an embarrassing 8-2 loss against Manchester United, but Szczesny’s performances were still perfectly sound. From February onwards that season, Arsenal put in some truly incredible performances, and Szczesny, along with the likes of Mikel Arteta, Bacary Sagna and, of course, Robin van Persie, was one of the driving forces behind Arsenal’s surge to third place (ahead of Spurs, again) and Champions League football once more.

However, the next season cracks started to appear. Arsenal were woeful in the first half yet again, and sorted things out in the second half to finish above Spurs and guarantee first-team football again, but Szczesny’s good fortune started to take a turn for the worse during that season.

Szczesny suffered a few injury problems in the first half of the season and, to make matters worse, his form dropped in early 2013, with his own father, Maciej, blaming Arsene Wenger for this. Wenger dropped Szczesny for Arsenal’s trip to Bayern Munich, where they won 2-0 with second choice goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski putting in an excellent performance, and it took an injury to Szczesny’s compatriot in April for the 22 year old to return to the starting lineup. He put in some strong performances for the rest of that season, and it seemed he had regained his starting place for sure.

Fabianski’s resurgence may well have been what caused the change in Szczesny’s goalkeeping style. It was noticeable at the beginning of the 2013-14 season that he was starting to try more flamboyant things; such as coming out of his goal rather unnecessarily. That season was memorable for Arsenal, as they ended their trophy drought with an FA Cup win, but Szczesny did not play a minute in that run, with Wenger preferring Fabianski over him.

In the league, Szczesny had a relatively successful season; he won the “golden glove” for most clean sheets and received plenty of praise from Arsenal fans, but he still did not quite seem like the player he was in 2012.

This current season has easily been Wojciech Szczesny’s worst as an Arsenal player: he has become very unpredictable; doesn’t command his area like he used to; and has lost the faith of many Arsenal fans. This poor form climaxed in Arsenal’s recent trip to Southampton, where the goalkeeper made two very poor errors as Arsenal lost 2-0. In the post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger said he didn’t want to talk about him: possibly the most negative thing Wenger would be willing to say about one of his players. David Ospina was chosen to play ahead of Szczesny for Arsenal’s FA Cup game against Hull, and there are rumours floating around that the Colombian will play ahead of the Pole.

Watching Szczesny has been bizarre this season. Where not long ago one could relax when the ball came near Szczesny in his area, it is hard not to worry that he will try to do something too flamboyant on the ball and make a calamitous error. His decision making has been poor, and he has suffered a number of lapses of concentration, leaving all to wonder what has caused his slight fall from grace.

Fabianski’s resurgence in 2013 is one explanation: perhaps he has become too keen to prove his worth, and has tried to give himself more work than is necessary; perhaps something behind the scenes is to blame.

The fact that Szczesny’s decision making and maturity has not improved over the last few years suggests that not enough is being done by the coaching staff to ensure that he will continue to improve until he reaches his peak. However, none of us know what is really going on behind the scenes, and we can only hope that the current goalkeeping coach, Gerry Peyton, can sort Wojciech out.

In March 2013, when Szczesny’s first rough patch occurred, rumours surfaced as to Wenger looking to bring in a new goalkeeping coach; ex-Arsenal goalkeepers Jens Lehmann and David Seaman were touted as possible names to come in. No changes were made, but perhaps now is the time to bring in one of those two, as they would surely be able to kick the erratic areas of Szczesny’s game out of him.

What can be done in the short-term? David Ospina looked very composed in Arsenal’s game against Hull, and perhaps seeing the Colombian playing ahead of him will spur Szczesny on to regain his starting place like he did with Fabianski. After his second error against Southampton, he looked like a rabbit in the headlights. Wenger now needs to nurture him back from lacking in confidence to desperate to play every game, and perhaps starting Ospina ahead of him will be a catalyst in doing this.

Moreover, Arsenal have been linked with signing Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. An experienced man like Cech would be able to help Szczesny mature, whilst providing a very strong option for Arsenal in the starting lineup. However, should Arsenal sign him, that would mean that David Ospina would find himself struggling for playing time, and having three goalkeepers who have proven their class at one time or another could easily cause unrest in the Arsenal goalkeeping camp.

It seems that one of the two options is necessary to give Szczesny the kick up the backside required for him to sort his immaturity and poor form out, but whether Wenger will choose to give Ospina a chance to prove himself or strengthen Arsenal’s goalkeeping options remains to be seen.

Wojciech Szczesny is at one of the lowest moments in his Arsenal career. Can he climb from the abyss, and what needs to be done to help him do so?

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