Premier League: Arsenal goalkeeper leads an impressive generation

Szczesny

Potential is always the great imponderable.
It’s easy to identify, difficult to quantify and never guaranteed to be fulfilled.
It’s capable of vanishing in front of your eyes quicker than clubs that actually want to sign Carlos Tevez. If anything, it’s even harder to examine when looking at goalkeepers who may have to wait months and years for their chance in the 1st team, but one of the main storylines of the Premier League season has been the number of young goalkeepers making huge strides towards delivering on their undoubted natural ability. Here’s a look at some of the youthful generation impressing in the early stages of the campaign.

The irony of Arsenal finally unearthing a world-class goalie only for the rest of the team to suffer high-profile difficulties is something that’s been pointed out by various people – some with more joy than others. Since being promoted to the starting role in the Arsenal team, Wojciech Szczesny has performed to a level that suggests he’s a player of real quality. He has earned some flack for a couple of errors, but thankfully he has shown the mental strength to bounce back and more than that, improve markedly. Over the summer, he seems to have not only matured, but improved his already impressive agility, handling and command of his penalty area. His team-mates haven’t helped much by way of keeping his sheets clean, but taken in isolation, he has been in excellent form and looks to be the long-term solution to the Gunners’ goalkeeping issues. There will be blips in the future, but he’s displayed the mentality to suggest he’ll be able to great through any future issues.

Almost a carbon copy of the Pole is Tim Krul of Newcastle United. I questioned Alan Pardew’s apparent willingness to let Fraser Forster leave for Celtic, but at the moment the decision to entrust the Dutchman as first choice looks inspired. He has showcased his fantastic reflexes and agility numerous times this season, but the most encouraging aspect of his performances is his ever improving calmness. Krul had a tendency to litter his performances with ill-advised decision-making that undermined his skill, but during the off-season – whether consciously or otherwise – he seems to have developed a better sense of when to take command and when to leave it to his defenders. He has been excellent and without him we may again be talking about another Newcastle side playing nice football, but with little to show for it apart from an array of frozen beer-bellies on the terraces of St. James’ Park.

David De Gea is an obvious choice. The knives were out for the young Spaniard after a shaky start to his Man United career, but he has shown great resilience under pressure to recover. At one point the temptation of going with the in-form Anders Lindegaard must have been hard to resist for Sir Alex, but De Gea’s performance at Anfield was one that highlighted the attributes that eventually persuaded Fergie to part with a substantial sum of money for his services. The excellent saves garnered many of the non-racism row headlines, but the best part was seeing the authority with week he commanded his penalty area and took charge when required. That’s an important step in his development at Old Trafford and talk of ‘turning a corner’ may still be pre-mature, but it’s certainly not without justification.

John Ruddy of Norwich is another goalkeeper I’m more than happy to eat a large slice of humble pie over. In my pre-season preview of the goalkeepers of each Premier League club I expressed doubts about his level of experience and his reliability, but aside from the dismissal at Stamford Bridge, he has looked every bit the Premier League standard goalkeeper. Mistakes blighted him last season, but the early evidence is he’s now a more focussed player and the Canaries are reaping the benefits. Wayne Hennessy is also worthy of a mention, but in his case his improvement has been over the last couple of seasons rather than over the summer and on a similar theme, Asmir Begovic has continued his longer term renaissance for Stoke.

There’s certain to be be mistakes and bumps in the road to the top for all of the Premier League’s young goalkeepers, but the indications are there’s a generation of talent emerging in the top flight at present.

The Best Young Premier League Goalkeepers 2010-11

MOG Premier League Awards
It’s awards season and in the absence of any goalkeepers actually making the PFA Player of the Year or Young Player of the Year shortlists, here’s a look at the best performing goalkeepers of the season. It’s not exactly a list of the most talented goalkeepers, but rather the ones who have consistently performed to the best of their abilities. I haven’t ranked them, but here’s my shortlist of young goalkeepers.

Asmir Begovic
After a worrying start to the season, Begovic has turned things around at Stoke

Asmir Begovic
Usurping such an established Premier League performer as Thomas Sorensen should tell you all you need to know about how good a season it has been for Begovic. Having initially got his chance due to injury to the Dane towards the end of last season, he got the nod as the team’s first choice for the new season and he hasn’t disappointed. What makes his progress this season particularly remarkable is the inauspicious way in which the season began after a controversial absence from a League Cup tie in August. At that point, Tony Pulis suggested an early exit from the Britannia Stadium only six months after joining the club wasn’t out of the question, but the bridges have been rebuilt and the Bosnia and Herzegovina international has become a firm favourite thanks to a string of good performances. He’s tremendously agile and commands his penalty area with the confidence of a Premier League veteran. It wasn’t looking likely last August, but Begovic has the potential to be a reliable performer for the Potters for many years to come.

Wayne Hennessy
The story of Wayne Hennessy’s season sadly mirrors that of his club a little too closely. Wolves have played good football, performed well throughout, but just not got the results they would have hoped. That’s a general assessment of how Hennessy has got on too. In numerous games during the season he has made several good saves only to be beaten by that crucial goal that turns a win into a draw or a point into nothing. To say he has been perfect would be disingenuous, but he has been very good and responded well after moments that he won’t be overly fond of recollecting. Last weekend was a case in point because after getting beaten to a cross by Jermaine Beckford, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves to keep Wolves in the game. Not for the first time this season, it was in vain, but all the scrapping around hasn’t been for nothing and until last weekend at least, Mick McCarthy’s men had one of the better goal differences of the teams locked in the relegation battle. It’s still not looking too bad and Wolves are going to need Hennessy’s smart reflexes and agility in the closing games of the season. If he can keep a couple of clean sheets and Wolves can capitalise with a couple of goals at the other end, safety is a possibility. Hennessy is certainly good enough to hold up his end of the bargain.

Simon Mignolet
Missing a goalkeeper of Craig Gordon’s quality would normally deal a crippling blow to a team’s chances of having a good season, but such has been the ease with which the Belgian has stepped into the breach, it’s barely been noticed. A string of fine performances from Mignolet helped the Black Cats to a lofty position in the table and although that position has taken a serious dip in recent weeks, one more win should see Steve Bruce’s men safe and surely most fans would he happy with that considering the solid foundations that have been laid this season. This season also saw him make his competitive debut for Belgium. At the age of 22, he’s could already be amongst the Premier League’s best, but the best thing is he is open to serious improvement. He has the natural talent – as seen from his fine reflexes and agility – and under the guidance of Sunderland goalkeeping coach, Nigel Spink, he should become even better. He could do with being a little more assured in his handling and hang on to the ball at the first attempt more often, but Mignolet looks to be on course for the very top.

Honourable mentions
Wojciech Szczesny – did very well when thrown into the deep end for Arsenal, but a mistake in the Carling Cup Final followed soon after by a virtually season-ending injury has seen it finish on something of sour note. Tim Krul was more than capable in replacing Steve Harper for Newcastle and has the talent to be unhappy with sitting on a Premier League bench. It’s hard not to mention Joe Hart for Man City who pulled off some truly breath-taking saves in the course of the season. He started the term well, but a string of mistakes have brought some serious question marks. He has the ability, but his attitude and concentration have undermined him.