Déjà vu. Groundhog Day. A season supporting Arsenal football club. Nothing ever seems to change with our club, as we slowly slowly slide down the pole of mediocrity. What we thought would be an improved season after the first year of missing out on a top four place in 20-odd years has rather turned out to be a kick in the guts, by players who just have not pulled their weight; be it their own faults, that of the manager, or some combination of the two. What has been glaring though, has been the need for quality, strong reinforcements in the spine of the team: Goalkeeper, Central Defence, Central Midfield/Defensive Midfield and at Forward.
In this series, I will pick and talk about each position and whom I believe we can bring on board to strengthen these vital roles, on a series basis.
PART 1- GOALKEEPER.
“In the end, you need to be a little masochistic to be a goalkeeper. A masochist and egocentric as well.”- Gianluigi Buffon
When we signed Petr Cech from Chelsea a couple of years back, before the collapse of the Mourinho era, everyone from the fans in Timbuktu to those at the North Pole believed we had finally solved a problem that had been nagging since Jens Lehmann left the club. Players and analysts spoke of the number of points he was going to save us and how he would lead and galvanize the team to consistent league challenges. In hindsight they might be taking back their words. It may just be that the defence in front of him has not been up to the standard he had at Chelsea previously with the likes of John Terry in the ranks, but I believe we mainly signed a goalkeeper whose powers had begun to wane. Petr has always been known as a brave and solid goalkeeper who does not do the flashy ball-playing, sweeper-keeper stuff, but sticks to the basics and provides capable hands, as the last point of call in a team’s defence. The curse of the ‘Emirates Arsenal’ just may have affected him as his poorest form as a goalkeeper has happened in the jersey of our club. Petr has been the main cause of several goals conceded this season and has even come out once or twice to hold up his hands to accept blame. That is all nice and classy, but the team is not awarded points for nice and classy, as some of his howlers have simply played huge roles in some of the club’s losses this season, most recently against Brighton.
It would have been manageable to an extent, if we had a deputy goalkeeper who was pushing Cech day-in day-out. That unfortunately has not been the case with David Ospina deputizing. The Colombian has been party to some absolute howlers himself since coming on board the Gunner Express. He is the type who makes the most difficult of saves seem like clockwork, yet makes the most mundane of saves seem like a PhD test for a toddler. For a goalkeeper of such small stature he makes confident saves sometimes, putting his head places where some wouldn’t even place their feet. Yet he cannot be relied upon to go a full game without making a questionable error; be it a mistimed punch, a miscalculated attempt to reach a cross, or foolhardily racing off his line to attempt to clear a ball way out of his reach. He is a fan favourite though for some of the remarkable saves he has made in the past, earning himself a special shout from the fans whenever he plays a goal kick, yet Gunners cannot hold players in esteem solely because of sentiments. Constant and consistent performance of top quality must be demanded every week from these players who receive huge chunks of hard earned fans’ money as wages.
For a weird reason, Arsenal sold Szczesny off to Juventus, who believed he was capable enough to eventually replace the much vaunted Gigi Buffon, yet we could not find a situation which would encourage him to sign a new deal and stay? Also, Emiliano Martinez, who is highly spoken of by Mr Wenger has never consistently impressed when given a chance at the club; albeit it rare chances, and is loaned out at the least opportunity to clubs where he almost never gets chances to show his worth. Matt Macey looks to have the build of a capable goalkeeper, but a wise man asked that a book not be judged by its cover. I have not seen enough of him to pass judgement on the young talent, but it seems the club has belief in his abilities, by keeping him close to first team action.
We definitely must make a splash in the transfer window next summer and buy a goalkeeper who exudes confidence, is capable and can marshal his defence with respect, authority but no fear. Finding a readymade, quality goalkeeper will be a very costly venture, with Jan Oblak whom I believe to be the finest in Europe being reportedly worth a stunning 120 million pounds. He stepped in to replace Courtois in the Athletico Madrid team and since then has established himself as one of the best young goalkeepers, scratch that, one of the best goalkeepers around. He makes the simple things look easy, as they should and even makes the most difficult ones seem just as easy. An enviable talent. It will be a huge statement from the club and for the new administration looking to change things and could help the club gain respect it has lost in the eyes of many across the world. As a young player, he will have the chance to have a long, storied career in what can still be London’s best team in the next year or two, if all should go well. One other goalkeeper I believe the club can aim for is young Italian Donnarumma. There seems to be a lot of drama surrounding him but this is mainly from his agent, the diva Raiola. The kid meanwhile is exceptional and stealing him from under the noses of many chasing European giants will alongside the benefit of improving our goalkeeping team, earn the club respect for being able to seal a deal which the club could reap for a decade or more.
Goalkeeper is a pivotal position in any club. Liverpool despite having one of the most devastating attacks this season have been mightily let down for having two goalkeepers who have been bang on average. David De Gea meanwhile is 70% of the reason behind Man United’s current standing in the league. Ensuring that you have that role covered by capable hands allows the rest of the team play with freedom as they have immense belief in the capabilities of their last man standing. The ability and performance of the goalkeeper washes down to the rest of the team, thus that position must be definitely attacked with vigour this summer by Gazidis and co.