30 April 2013

Szczęsny stops 'em all...

Okay, so he's still not quite the dominant keeper we need to lead us to the top of the Prem, but since his return to the starting lineup, Wojciech Szczęsny has re-emerged as a confident and capable keeper, doing just enough to keep us climbing to the top of the
Hardly bathed in glory, but it'll do.
Prem (okay, as close to it as mathematically possible). In the last three matches, he's allowed only one goal, a penalty kick from the league's most lethal scorer, a shot that he anticipated correctly but just couldn't do anything to stopnot that anyone else could have. Two clean sheets, one against a stubborn Everton and one against a mid-table but scrappy Fulham, is not bad at all. It's not a dramatic improvement on Fabiański's performances, nor has Szczęsny stopped us from reaching for the antacids just yet, but he's still our best bet between the sticks, so it's reassuring to see him regaining some form and momentum.

First, Fabiański. We'll never learn whether his rib injury is legitimate or contrived, but he did well for himself and the team with the chances he had. He filled in admirably and stepped back when the time was right without complaint, at least publicly. He deserves credit for managing a tricky situation. A lesser man would have found a way to complain. His willingness to play the role he's been asked to play deserves our respect. Good on ya, Łukasz.

Without reducing Fabiański to a bit part, Szczęsny seems to need someone behind him to prod him on so that he doesn't revert to his previous, complacent form.  If Fabiański is willing to play that role, coming on for three- to four-game spells to re-light a fire under Szczęsny, so much the better. I don't think Fabiański has what it takes to be a #1 keeper at the level at which we expect to perform, but he might be just good enough to keep Szczęsny sharp and on his toes. This arrangement need not preclude the search for keeper in the summer, but it might be enough to put to rest the rumors that we're going to sign the likes of Iker Casillas, for example (with Mourinho likely to leave, I don't see Casillas leaving as well, for what that's worth).

Since his return, Szczęsny has done pretty well. Everton only tested him twice and Fulham three times (thrice? emmm..), it's true, but he did his job and did it well. It was against Man U, ironically the only match in which he allowed a goal, that he seemed be truly on, denying van Persie's point-blank header with his face, very-nearly saving van Persie's PK, and handling Rooney's header in the box, among others. In short, he was peppered by a Man U that has scored an eye-popping 79 goals (and nine in its preceding four matches) and held them to just one, and that came on a spot-kick.

We face three bottom-of-the-table teams as we close out the season: an already-relegated QPR, a could-be relegated Wigan, and Newcastle, losers of three of their last five, including that 6-0 dressing-down at home against Suarez-less Liverpool. Having a confident, capable, and in-form Szczęsny will go a long way towards ensuring that we keep maximum points as we try to consolidate a 4th-place finish and continue to chase a 3rd-place one. Welcome back, Woj; we missed ya.