08 April 2013

What on Earth is wrong with Wojciech?

Our #1 keeper hasn't featured for us since the loss to Tottenham on March 3rd, and what looks like a signal-sending demotion seems at risk of becoming a much more serious problem. Szczęsny played today with the U21's against Liverpool and did not do well, conceding three goals against a group of Scousers who  might celebrate their victory today by buying their first proper shaving kits.

Sporting some kind of god-awful fauxhawk was one thing, but the fact that Szczęsny let three shots slip by is even worse. Actual statistics and highlights are hard to come by, as the match was played in front of a group of people just barely larger than the queue for the bus. Simply put, the lad looked bad. This might be understandable against Liverpool's actual team, but for it to happen against their U21s is troubling, to say the least.

First disclaimer: I'm a fan of Szczęsny and want him to be our #1 keeper. I think he has potential and will develop into a keeper to remember. Second disclaimer: I know that he had in front of him a bunch of boys. Now, the rebuttal, at least on that second point: the same is true of Liverpool. Szczęsny was facing some talented but very raw Scousers, and he did poorly.

Even if one goal was down to poor defending, we need a keeper who can be expected to make game-changing saves, and after today's performance, Szczęsny is not that keeper, at least not now. I've found highlights of goals #2 and #3, and I have to say he should have done betterif he sees himself as a starting keeper for a club like Arsenal. On goal #2, he simply didn't anticipate or react to the shot and was caught completely off-guard. On goal #3, he was just out of position. The cross came in from a sharp angle after a nice sequence, but Szczęsny seemed to lack any positional awareness as he waited at the near-post until after the cross came. By the time Liverpool's #7 received the through-ball, it should have been clear to Szczęsny that a cross, not a shot, was forth-coming, and he should have shifted forward in the box to cut it off. Instead, he was napping at the near-post, just a foot or so off his line, as the cross came in just inside the six to the far-post. All the Scouser had to do was be there for the ball to bounce off him and in.

This is not the kind of performance our first-choice keeper needs. There is little in his performance to merit a return to the starting line-up, that's for sure. Fabianski has endured a hiccup or two, but he has not been guilty of any forehead-slappingly bad mistakes of the kind that would justify a demotion. Szczęsny surely knew this going into the Liverpool match but didn't display much motivation, determination, or passion after the two goals for which I could find highlights. Absent these qualities, my earlier suggestion that he play against West Brom echo quite hollow, and I can't see a compelling reason to restore him for Norwich.

Here, for anyone compelled to dispute my findings, are the videos on which I base my findings:
Look, I know it's a bit unfair of me to criticize a goalie. It's one of the worst jobs in sports. By the time you've been scored on, ten other players made some kind of mistake to let it happen; yours is just the most visible, and it happened at light-speed. Nevertheless, the evidence here is pretty clear. On both goals, Szczęsny could have done better. That's one thing. The deeper problem is that he didn't show much of a reaction. Whether that's down to personality or confidence or what, I can't say, but I want my keeper to be frothing-at-the-mouth angry at the other ten men at the field when he concedes a goal. I want my keeper pointing out every wrong decision, poorly executed tackle, miscommunication, and every other contributing factornot to deflect blame, but to share it.

Having said that, what might have been a tune-up before rejoining the starting line-up now looks like damning evidence to the contrary. Fabianski has deputized well, but we need a keeper who will make opposing strikers second-guess themselves. At the risk of jeopardizing our current run, I'm not sure we have that at this point.