Wojciech Versus the EPL’s top keepers
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of Arsenal fans support Wojciech Szczesny. He’s been there for us when Fabianksi couldn’t be due to injury and when Almunia was…well who knows where Almunia was. Over the last two seasons Szczesny has put in a lot of time on the pitch for Arsenal (48 appearances last season) and we’ve no doubt benefited from his talents, young and inexperienced though he may be. However, lately I’ve been considering what business I’d like to see Arsenal do in the summer transfer window and, since the signing of forwards Podolski and Giroud have helped sure up the front, a new goalkeeper should be of top priority for the club.
Before anyone gets defensive, I like Szczesny very much (his tweets, when he tweeted, and Wojciech Versus segments only add to this) and consider him a great young talent at the club, but he is still only 22 and has a ways to go before he can develop into the great keeper I believe he can be. He’s done well for Arsenal this past season, putting in a good showing of character by being charismatic and expressively loyal to the club and by achieving a save percentage of nearly 87%. Not too shabby for an up and coming keeper.
The problem comes when you compare his numbers to those of keepers from the other top clubs in the Premier League:
Though Arsenal finished 3rd in the league, which we all know is an incredible accomplishment based on where we were last Fall, we conceded far more goals than the other top four clubs. The number of goals conceded is, of course, partly dependent on the defense, but also on the quality of the attacking play of opponents. The only goalkeeper playing for one of the “big clubs” that had fewer clean sheets than our Pole in Goal was Petr Cech, yet Cech still managed a higher save percentage than Szczesny at 89.6%. The scoring chances Arsenal gave away were about on par with City, United and Chelsea, as seen from the Shots Faced column above, which suggests the goalkeeping may be somewhat suspect.
The most significant difference appears in the 4th and 5th columns, when we look at the save% and, more importantly, the goals allowed. The fewest goals allowed and highest save percentages, as one would expect, are to be found in the top two clubs in the league. Hart and De Gea are both quality keepers with a high level of consistency in their shot stopping (it may be argued from the number of clean sheets that Hart is the better of the two and his Premier League medal will back that up nicely). When we look at Szczesny’s goals allowed we find a far greater number: 49 to the 29 of the first and second place keepers. My math isn’t great, but if I’m correct that’s 20 goals more were allowed by Szczesny, whether or not they were the fault of the defense or the young keeper himself (I’m also aware of the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, but those goals were still allowed). That’s the second highest number of goals allowed in the top six teams in the league. Saving those 20 goals or even 15 of them could have made a big difference to our form table and prevented some of those dubious losses we look back on while waiting for the coming season.
What I’m getting at is that Szczesny, while talented and playing at a level higher than we might expect from a keeper of his age, is still just a pup between the sticks and as such I think it’s vital that Arsenal bring in a more experienced, top class shot stopper to keep our numbers closer to that of the top two clubs. The benefit is also one of development for Szczesny; with competition for him to get games he’ll have more incentive to up his game play and effort, whereas now it’s pretty much a given that he’ll start all games in the league next season. I’m not saying he’s lazy or complacent, but the risk of that happening is definitely there. Having a top keeper around would also give the young Pole someone to learn from directly, to watch every day in training and on game days. It’s a win-win situation, as I see it.
The question that naturally follows a post like this is, What keeper do you think should be bought this summer, Steve? The problem with providing an answer to this is that I’m far too Arsenal/Premier League centric to offer an educated response. The best I can do is suggest that the rumours of Lyon’s Hugo Lloris looking for a move to a big club outside of France may be an opportunity for Arsène to do a good piece of business if he is willing to pay the £16 million his club is supposedly asking. Does it matter that FIFA 12 gave Lloris a rating of 85? Probably not.