Now that I’ve completed my own exams this summer, it’s time for me to rate, and in some cases slate, the Arsenal players for their performances over the last ten months. To say it’s been an eventful season for Arsenal would be a massive understatement, so I’m sure there will be plenty of disagreement with my ratings, so feel free to comment at the end of the blog. I’ll go through the squad over the next couple of weeks, and will start at the last line of defence; the goalkeepers.
1. Manuel Almunia
There really isn’t much to say about the Spaniard given he didn’t play a single minute for the Arsenal first team in 2011/12. He’s now been released and is without a club. It’s felt like he hasn’t been an Arsenal player this season, and he did spend a short loan spell at West Ham but returned quickly after they decided that Robert Green was better. The way Almunia was side-lined could seem a little harsh as he’s always come across as one of the nice guys in football, however ultimately he was too error prone. The two matches against West Brom in 2010/11 effectively ended his Arsenal career, but because of a lack of suitors, and injuries to Fabianski and Mannone, he hung around at the club last season and was on the bench a few times, however never made it onto the pitch. I hope his career doesn’t meander into nothingness; however I fear it might, which would be a shame.
Season Rating: 0/10
13. Wojciech Szczesny
This assessment of the goalkeepers is really only about one man. An ever present in the league, Wojciech Szczesny is now established as the first choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. Like the team, the Pole has had an up and down season, but ultimately an impressive one for someone so young, in such a vital position.
There were reports later in the season that Szczesny was playing with an injury, yet he was still deemed better than Lukasz Fabianski. It also showed Szczesny’s commitment to the club considering he could have risked worsening the injury and missing out on a first major international tournament, and a tournament that is being played in his home country.
Whilst he is loved by a lot of fans, it’s possible to be critical of Szczesny. We undoubtedly conceded too many goals last season, and given he played in every game, they all went past the Pole. All 49 of them weren’t unstoppable shots. The Norwich match was a low point as he let a weak Hoolahan shot in. His enthusiasm to come out of goal can still overpower his better judgement and lead to danger. He’s also been beaten at his near post a few too many times; Hatem Ben Arfa’s goal for Newcastle at the Emirates would be a prime example.
However, Szczesny has become a goalkeeper that wins a team more points compared to points that his mistakes cost the club. He has made some amazing saves this season, with the one at home to Sunderland from Lee Cattermole being a personal favourite, and there was a stunner at Wolves later in the season. He made some big penalty saves in 2011/12 as he’s able to make himself an imposing figure to beat and is good at getting into the head of the taker. The save from Di Natale against Udinese was massive for our season in terms of making the Champions League group stage and then being able to sign players. Then there was the double save against Liverpool. Robin van Persie’s brace grabbed the headlines, but his and Szczesny’s performance won us that match.
Ultimately, whatever Szczesny does on the pitch, Arsenal fans will always allow his performances more leeway because he clearly understands and loves the club. His celebrations after goals are becoming legendary, his conducting and chanting with the away fans at Wigan helped make him a favourite with travelling Gooners, plus the fake drinking of the beer against Manchester City and the sneaking off with the ball with van Persie arguing with Krul against Newcastle were frankly hilarious.
Ultimately, Szczesny has had a decent season when comparing him to other top level goalkeepers, but he’s had a great one compared to other 22 year old stoppers. He’s not a goalkeeper who is short of confidence, and he’s shown that he can recover quickly from the mistakes he makes. He just has to be careful that his huge amount of confidence doesn’t become his undoing. He shouldn’t get complacent as Arsenal’s number one, and hopefully he’ll only improve in the next few years. Between the posts has been a position where we’ve had numerous problems in recent season, hopefully we’ve found someone that has the talent, presence and personality to fill the position for numerous years. Szczesny now has a solid first full season to build on.
Season Rating: 6/10
21. Lukasz Fabianski
It’s been a difficult season for Lukasz Fabianski. There was a time during 2010/11 where it
seemed like he was cementing his place as first choice in the first team, however a should injury in January kept him out for the rest of the season, knocked his confidence, and allowed Wojciech Szczesny into the team. Fabianski appeared in the cup competitions, and gave some solid performances, but he couldn’t replace his compatriot as number one. He appeared in one Champions League game, and made a mistake that allowed Olympiakos to score.
I think he’s a good number two, but I can understand why he wants to leave. He was close to making a breakthrough at Arsenal, but luck deserted him. As he’s competing with Szczesny for the number one spot for his country as well, I won’t be surprised if he leaves the club this season.
Season Rating: 2/10
24. Vito Mannone
Italian Vito Mannone was another goalkeeper whose season was affected by injury, and the
form of those in front of him in the pecking order. He made just the one substitute appearance for Arsenal in the season, and unfortunately for him it was a memorable one for the wrong reasons. He replaced the injured Fabianski at Olympiakos, and conceded a bizarre goal when he took a huge swing at the ball trying to kick it clear, missed, and it went in. He could have just casually caught the ball if he realised the ball was in his penalty area.
Like Fabianski, I’ll be surprised if he has a future at Arsenal with other young goalkeepers coming up behind him. He did well in his loan spell at Hull, so I think it’ll be better for his career for him to leave Arsenal.
Season Rating: 1/10