02 July 2013

Is Woj all that stands between us and an empty net?

In a reminder that we at Arsenal have been too busy counting our chickens before they hatch, feeling excited about who we're about to sign, how we don't have to worry about losing any key players, how we've finally cut some of the deadwood, we face a great deal of uncertainty around who will mind the net. Mannone is close to signing with Sunderland. Should that happen, we'd have Szczesny and Fabianski as the only keepers on the squad with meaningful first-team experience. Academy players James Shea and Reice Charles-Cook were released yesterday (1 July), so the pipeline, such as it is, is dry. The only other keeper under contract, then, is Damian Martinez, a 20-year old who made two appearances in the 2012-13 season, both in the league cup: he faced two shots from Coventry, saving one and conceding the other; and he faced six shots from Reading, saving one and conceding five. I'm sure he calls his mother on Sundays and rescues kittens in his spare time, but he's some years away from making regular appearances in the Prem. His best contribution to the squad might be in convincing his fellow Argentinian to sign with Arsenal.

We've already seen how Woj can get lackadaisical when he senses that the position is his to lose. He's an incredibly talented keeper, but the key word theretalentedis problematic. A player who can succeed on talent sometimes learns to be lazy whereas a player with less "talent" might develop stronger skills, technique, focus, and more through hard work. I'm not suggesting that Woj is lazy, but the risk of him becoming so is too real to ignore. He's been diplomatic enough to call Fabianski "the best #2 keeper in the country", a back-handed compliment if ever there was one. Fab's made 31 Prem appearances in six years and is clearly not a viable long-term option. We're therefore one Szczesny injury away from seeing Fabianski as our #1 keeper with Martinez as the only back-up.

With the transfer window now officially open, we'd be sorely remiss to let the keeper situation slip too far down the list of priorities (I don't mean for a second to suggest that Arsène or anyone else who actually makes these decisions are ignorant of the situation). We've been linked with Julio César for a while now, a keeper I've argued several times we should sign. However, news today suggests that Barcelona, who apparently do no scouting of their own other than to scan headlines for the word "Arsenal," are now interested in signing him. Such a move doesn't yet register at transfermrkt or at any betting salons, but with Valdes having vowed to leave the Camp Nou, Barca could very well throw a  large and expensive spanner in the works.

Our interest in other keepers, such as Reina, Mignolet, or Begovic, seem so flaccid that they barely merit any attention. Mignolet's already signed with Liverpool, which might make Reina available, although he would almost certainly expect to be the number-one keeper from day one and would be unlikely to accept a lesser role even if he is outperformed by Szczesny.  However, I'm not sure Reina's actual performance warrants that attitude. With a whoscored rating of 6.63, Reina rates below Szczesny (6.79) and César (6.87). As much as I might like to kneecap Liverpool by poaching their keeper, we might actually help Liverpool without significantly strengthening ourselves  by taking Reina. Mignolet and his 7.01 rating would then be their #1 keeper.

Which GK should we sign?

Are we left with César as the best option, or should we look farther afield? Hamburger SV's René Adler? Mönchengladbach's Marc-André ter Stegen? Barcelona's Villa?  Each offers advantages and drawbacks, so I'll put it to you: of the keepers mentioned, whom would be best for Arsenal? Cast your vote, and I'll follow up in a few days with a deeper look at the results--unless, of course, a keeper is signed in the meantime.

Speaking of voting, the YAMAS13 blog-awards are out, and this blog has been nominated in the Best New Arsenal Blog category. I hope you'll take a minute to votehere's the seven-question survey.