The young goalkeeper has continued to mature impressively this season, with his strong performances ending years of uncertainty for the Gunners between the sticks
By Chris Myson
Arsenal moved another step closer to finishing third in the Premier League with a comfortable victory over Wolves on Wednesday, but while the likes of Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott enjoyed the limelight, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was impressively going about his business yet again.
The Gunners were easy 3-0 winners over the 10-man relegation battlers and Szczesny will have matches where he is called into action more often than was the case at Molineux.
Despite long periods of inactivity, the Poland international was still forced into making a wonderful save from a Kevin Doyle header at 2-0, changing direction at the last moment to make a fingertip intervention, before getting down sharply to deny Nenad Milijas at his near post.
That is what makes a keeper successful when playing for a top side – the ability to be virtually unoccupied for long spells of games but maintaining the concentration and having the attributes required to pull off priceless saves when it matters most.
Those saves gave Szczesny his 17th clean sheet of an impressive season and the 28th of his young Arsenal career, making it four shut-outs from his last five games, with the Gunners’ improved defensive record having proved vital in their bid to seal Champions League football.
| PLAYER RATING
|7.5||Had absolutely nothing to do, unless you count goalkicks, until the second half when he made a breathtaking stop to prevent Kevin Doyle scoring with a header. Also denied a good effort from Milijas late on.
He has made mistakes – notably the League Cup final blunder that cost his side the trophy against Birmingham City last season – but continues to learn and make rapid progress, establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s top keepers at only 21.
This season has seen him look stronger and more solid without sacrificing any of the reflexes or instinctive decision-making skills that helped him to make his breakthrough, with vital penalty saves against Udinese and Liverpool standing out as highlights from an excellent personal campaign.
After that victory over the Reds at Anfield, manager Arsene Wenger sung the praises of the Polish shot stopper and said he fully believed in the youngster.
"He is a boy of exceptional talent and he gave an exceptional performance,” he said. “I believe in him – that is why he plays - he is young and talented.”
Szczesny’s will to win and determination are evident for all to see. It appears the Gunners have a keeper with not only the talent but also the strength of character for them to rely on and build a team in front of over the next decade.
Many young players would hide away after costing their side a trophy at Wembley or conceding eight goals at Old Trafford – as he did in August - but with Szczesny it has been quite the opposite, he has come out even more determined to make his mark after suffering those setbacks.
|"That is what makes a keeper successful when playing for a top side – the ability to be unoccupied for long spells but maintaining the concentration & having the attributes to pull off priceless saves when it matters most."|
He has huge belief in his own ability but that is a good thing, particularly in his position where the slightest element of self-doubt or lack of confidence can have a disastrous effect on form.
The stability in the goalkeeping position is a far cry from what Arsenal fans have been used to in years gone by, where the eccentricity of Jens Lehmann and errors of Manuel Almunia regularly had supporters pulling their hair out.
Two years ago, the Emirates faithful were imploring Wenger to splash the cash on a proven shot stopper, but now they have an unlikely hero in Szczesny, a man who first joined the club when he was just 16.
He has already become a consistent and talented gloveman and Arsenal hope they can develop him into a leading keeper in world football over the upcoming years.
That is what Gunners fans will be most excited about – the best of Szczesny is yet to come. While he is currently boosting the side with his impressive displays, he is also acquiring the top-level experience that will stand him in great stead for the challenges facing him over the rest of his career.
|GUNNING FOR WIGAN
||Arsenal are 6/1 to beat Wigan 2-0 on Monday with bet365
With Arsenal now looking set to earn what would be a creditable third-place finish given the dreadful start they made to the league season, representing Poland at home in Euro 2012 will follow for Szczesny in the summer.
If he is yet to come to the world’s attention now, then he will have done so by the end of that tournament, with the national side pinning their hopes on the starlet keeping them in with a chance of qualification to the quarter-finals. At Arsenal though, Wenger and his team are already aware of the asset they have at their disposal.
While they do need a few key summer signings to end their silverware drought, the goalkeeping position is one where they know changes are not required, with the classy Szczesny continuing to prove he represents a safe pair of hands.
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