22 July 2015

Sayonara, Szczęsny: loan to Roma might equal an Arsenal adieu...

Wojciech Szczęsny has agreed to a season-long loan to Serie A's Roma, but the deal apparently does not allow Roma a £3.5 million buy-out clause, implying that Szczęsny would return to Arsenal for next season. On its face, the deal might make sense as it gives him a chance to play ahead of De Sanctis (38 y.o.), Lobont (37), and Švedkauskas (21). It both strips Szczęsny of the comfort he's enjoyed over the last few seasons while allowing him to play and develop, albeit without the mentoring and modeling that Petr Čech would offer. That brings me to my stunning realisation...

This loan is a prelude to shipping Szczęsny out.

After being benched for a short stint in 2012-13, Szczęsny ended sitting out almost half of the 2014-15 season after getting caught smoking in the changing room after his own errors allowed Southampton to beat us 2-0. It's one thing to smoke while out on the town amongst mates, but to do so in the changing room all but dares Arsène to make a move. Szczęsny ended up watching as Ospina did tolerably well as we climbed to as high as second, however, briefly. When he did come on in FA Cup matches, he failed to convince, and we now have Čech as our presumptive #1 goalkeeper.

The original impression was that Čech's arrival would offer Szczęsny motivation, mentorship, and modeling, and it would be Ospina out the door on his way to Fenerbahçe. Perhaps Arsène didn't want to provide van Persie any help. Instead of the Čech-Szczęsny partnership, though, I wonder if we've seen the last of the latter. Put simply, our recent history of loaning out players doesn't work in Szczęsny's favour. Setting aside youth-products, the last five years of loans suggests that Arsène uses them as a polite way to ease a player out or dispense with him entirely. In those last five years, only two senior players from twelve who have been loaned out have made a successful return to the club: Ramsey and Coquelin. Among the departed: Mannone, Vela, Frimpong, Arshavin, Chamakh, Santos, Djourou, Park, Bendtner, and Podolski. On the bubble are Campbell and Jenkinson.

Ostensibly, a loan offers a young player a better chance at regular playing time in order to develop before returning to his parent club. In many of the cases listed above, that was occasionally true, but in just as many, something different occurred, as the loaned-out player simply left Arsenal. Out-of-favour players who had logged significant minutes in the Prem—such as Santos, Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner, and Podolski—were deemed superfluous or not quite good enough.

Back to Szczęsny. While his loan is set for one year, I wouldn't be surprised if we learn a year from now he's been sold, whether to Roma or some other club. After all, Čech probably has as many as five years of top-quality performance in him. By the point that he's showing signs of his age, another Arsenal keeper should be ready, having absorbed all of that motivation, mentorship, and modeling that might have been intended for Szczęsny. No, not Ospina. I'm referring to Emi Martínez. He's 22 and has shown flashes of potential. While these are not quite apples-to-apples, they still offer food for thought:
  • At Anderlecht in the first leg, Martínez conceded just one goal. 
  • At home against Anderlecht in the second, Szczęsny conceded three.
  • At Dortmund in the first leg, Szczęsny conceded two goals.
  • At home against Dortmund in the second, Martínez kept a clean sheet.
Again, these stats can't stand as a direct comparison, but there's still something in them to consider. Szczęsny, for all of his cock-potential, still doesn't convince. In fact, if anything, he unnerves. By contrast, Čech, in his two appearances, has already inspired greater confidence (even if it was against Singapore and Everton...then again, if confident performances against those two inspire confidence, Szczęsny's problems are profound indeed).

Arsène has stood by Szczęsny through thick and thin, but there's been a gradual progression in how he's handled Szczęsny's misdeeds. 2012-13: bench the lad briefly. 2014-15: bench him for half the season. 2015-16: loan him out. What's next for Szczęsny? Will he be brought back into the fold, or will he be sold?

Jump down to the comments-section to share your thoughts!