1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Almunia, Vito Mannone
Overview: I’ve developed a simple rule of thumb for assessing the accuracy of rumours linking goalkeepers to Arsenal – ignore them all. There’s constant speculation about goalkeepers heading to Arsenal, but quite simply, I’m convinced Arsene Wenger doesn’t think he needs one. Given the Frenchmen’s believe in coaching, he seems committed to developing the custodians at his disposal rather than buying in something approaching the ready-made fix. I can kind of see the logic to that. Wojciech Szczesny is hugely promising. His reflexes are excellent, his hands are good, his agility top class and his confidence supreme. He could be Arsenal’s goalkeeper for the next decade and he has the ability to make that claim only slightly hyperbolic. But having said all that, he’s an incredibly young man to shoulder the goalkeeping responsibilities of a team genuinely hoping to be title contenders. Considering Arsenal’s on-going struggles in the goalkeeping department for the last few seasons, the Emirates is not an environment in which an up and coming keeper can learn his trade. In a couple of seasons, the young Pole may be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but right now he isn’t and he will have several blips. His temperament is also something to be wary of. Sometimes his undoubted confidence spills over into some ill-advised decisions both on and off the pitch. He had a minor twitter rant about referees giving Man Utd favourable decisions last January and on couple of occasions got involved in on-pitch skirmishes he could easily have avoided in a style not dissimilar to Jens Lehmann.
Regardless of this, he’s likely to start the season as first choice, but there will be unease about having Lukasz Fabianski as second choice. The elder Pole has made progress in the last couple of years, but there are ongoing concerns about his decision-making and nagging doubts that he’s never going to belong to the world’s elite. To me, it’s also telling that Manuel Almunia is still hanging around. There has been talk of him leaving since January and it’s come to nothing. My suspicion is that secretly, Wenger would like to keep him around. He’s perfectly capable of performing to a high level (as we saw with his incredible display in the Camp Nou when he came on for Szczesny), but over a stretch of games you’re more than likely to see some nonsensical decisions that cost goals. He offers a level of experience that others can’t match and for that reason alone, I think he might stay at the Emirates. Vito Mannone had a season on loan with Hull, but suffered a series of injuries and didn’t get the full benefit of the experience. He’s likely to go out on loan again.
Worst case scenario: The injury troubles that afflicted Szczesny and Fabianski throughout last season mean that Wenger has to turn to Almunia for long parts of the season. Once again, the manager turns down the chance to sign a goalkeeper during the January transfer window and Arsenal must make do with semi-fit and low on confidence keepers for the closing months of the season.
Most likely outcome: Szczesney will perform very well, but occasionally make the type of mistake to draw criticism. From time to time Wenger will give Fabianski a chance, but again it may not be long before it becomes obvious he isn’t a viable first choice for as sustained period of time. Almunia makes a handful of appearances, but again makes errors.