20 May 2014

Arsenal: the keeper-incubator

It's been quite a year for Arsenal's keepers, what with Szczęsny sharing the Golden Glove with Čech and Fabiański's role in in winning the FA Cup. Further afield, let's not overlook Vito Mannone, who might not have ever fully convinced at Arsenal but has more than made a name for himself with Sunderland, having been named their Player of the Year. He's no longer a Gunner, of course, but owes some part of his development to his time with the club. Taken all together, the three represent an embarrassment of riches at one position—if only it could last.

Conga line? Pecking-order? 
We've come a long way from the Seaman days, having suffered Almunia and other fools along the way. Heck, even Fabiański has had to endure his own "flappy hand-ski" reputation, and Szczęsny has committed boneheaded errors in the past. I seem to recall one such moment from Saturday when a certain Polish keeper found himself in no-man's land against Hull's Aloko only to see the shot roll harmlessly across an open goal. Fabiański may have stopped a few hearts with that quixotic foray, but, then again, he did stop a few shots just to get us to that position in the first place.

More to the point, each keeper—Szczęsny, Fabiański, and Mannone—spent his formative years at Arsenal and owes his development in no small part to the time they've spent here. Mannone joined the club in 2005 age 18), Fabiański in 2007 (age 22), Szczęsny in 2006 (age 16). It's no mystery why the first two have looked for chances elsewhere as Szczęsny has emerged as the club's number-one, on his way towards becoming one of the best in England. It's just not a position that sees much rotation for a variety of reasons, and if we're training up keepers, they're naturally going to want to play. There is no shame in seeing themselves eclipsed by the younger Szczęsny. For as much a credit as it is to our keeper coaches, it's created a bit of a dilemma as Fabiański looks for his next club, with Schalke and Swansea rumored to be among the suitors.

His departure would mean that Damián Martínez is the only other keeper in the squad with first-team experience. Among his more-memorable appearances, for good or bad, would be against in the epic 7-5 win over Reading in last season's league cup. What this suggests about his readiness to face, say, Man City or Liverpool is left to the imagination. In his defense, first-team chances have been hard to come by, what with the aforementioned trio standing in the way. Even the more-experienced Emiliano Viviano hasn't seen a minute of action since joining Arsenal on-loan, and he looks to return to Palermo.

Where does this leave us, then? With Fabiański all but out the door and Martínez still not quite ready for prime time, we can ill-afford to go into the 2014-15 campaign with just one experienced keeper. Given the tricky balancing act that we pulled off this season, keeping two quality keepers more or less happy, whom can we find in the transfer-window to reprise Fabiański's role, that of experienced, dependable (?) keeper who can challenge Szczęsny enough to keep him on his toes, step in when needed, and be content with that role? It's difficult to imagine a keeper who's good enough on one hand to step up on an as-needed basis and who's humble enough to accept such a diminished role. I'm open to suggestions. Any ideas?

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