16 November 2013

Szczesny commits to Arsenal

News from the official team website has Wojciech Szczesny signing a new long-term contract. I'm proud of myself for having not said something cringe-worthy, like "the club's future is in good hands". Then again, I just did. Let's move on. Details of the deal have not been released, but rumors floated in the murkier corners of the internet suggest that it's a four-year deal that would double his weekly wages, from a (reported) £50k. Whatever the numbers really add up to, the math at our end adds up nicely.

Ever since his benching last season, he's shown much greater maturity, purpose, even leadership. In previous posts, I've bemoaned Woj's apparent inabilty to make game-changing saves, succumbing instead to boneheaded flubs that would cost the team points. Since the beginning of the season, he's thankfully improved markedly in both areas, making vital saves when called upon and cutting down (if not eliminating altogether) the poor decisions that have been our keepers' calling-cards all too often in recent seasons. While he has certainly reaped the rewards of a more-organized defense in front of him, he also deserves credit for the solidity of his own performance to date.

A quick look at his whoscored ratings show a string of impressive performances. Setting aside the woeful, club-wide performance against Aston Villa, it's hard to point to any goals that he should've saved; most, if not all, of the goals we've conceded have not been Woj's fault. In fact, the closest I can come to knocking the man is on the goal from Man U when I felt that he was out of position, caught between charging out to punch or staying on his line. That would be some nit-picky stuff, though, because of how chaotic things get in the box on set-pieces. Taking stock of his season, I think we could list him as one of the five-best keepers in the Prem. It's not often that a keeper claims a Man of the Match rating, but Woj did so after the 2-1 win over Marseille and should have earned one for Poland despite conceding twice against England. Of course, in an ideal world, one's keeper is anonymous, tallying no stats at all—no goals conceded, of course, but no saves, no punches, no nothing because no shots are even allowed in the first place. In reality, Szczesny has done quite well, having conceded less than a goal per game (0.91) while averaging 2.45 saves per game (stats from squawka).

Statistics, of course, can only tell part of the story. In Szczesny's case, the more-telling metric might be his attitude. He's more consistent and more confident—not cocky but confident. There were stretches last year when his cockiness undermined his performance as he relied on talent rather than technique, and this led to his demotion for most of last season's run-in. When he came back, he was more focused and determined, claiming four clean sheets from six appearances to help the team finish fourth on the season. After this season's opening-day debacle (which included two goals from dubious penalties), Szczesny has largely left behind the gaffes and the arrogance that have plagued him in the past.

At only 23 and having already spent three seasons as Arsenals' first-choice keeper, an inflated sense of self-esteem is perhaps understandable. Already, though, Szczesny is showing signs of the kind of level-headed focus he will need to make the leap from potential to potent, whether he's publicly contradicting his own father or commenting on the demotion of Joe Hart by saying that "When you’re out of the team you have time to sort things out. It is very important to relax and maybe have a bit of time away from the pressure, getting the right mindset. It seems to be working for me". Speaking last year, Szczesny pointed out that he realizes that "it's the little details that win you games in football. You could be one kilogram too heavy and just get your fingertips to the ball but not quite turn it around the post—so that one [trip to] McDonald's during the week could have made all the difference!"

In other words, he's starting to realize that it's not just talent that makes a superstar—it's training, mindset, focus, the little things. Over the summer, I hoped for the signing of an experienced keeper, such as Julio Cesar, to challenge Szczesny but also to mentor him. I'm not saying he's magically matured so fast as to no longer need such a mentor, but he does seem to have learned important lessons from his demotion. He claims that Fabianski keeps him on his toes, and the same may be true of Viviano. Time will tell. It's been a long while since we've been able to look at the man between the sticks and feel completely confident—arguably, not since the days of David Seaman. Szczesny is not on that level yet, not nearly, but he's certainly moving in that direction. When it comes time to talk of another new contract for him, I hope we're still talking of him in similar terms. He says at the club-site that "Arsenal is like my family and I’m so happy to be committing my long-term future here". His best years are still ahead of him, so it's exciting to think of how good he might become, this year and in years to come.

'Til next time.