Arsène Wenger had always been criticised in the not so distant past for being overly inclined towards catering to his obsession with the offensive and fluidic brand of football, which more often than not left the defensive priorities partially unattended. Despite the success the Frenchman has familiarised his side with, he could never recover defensively once the backline troops that he inherited from Bruce Rioch hang up their boots.
During the trophy drought which Arsenal had to endure, one thing that could be sniffed was the lack of a resilient character with gloves after the departure of Jens Lehmann to VfB Stuttgart. If the slot that is liable to shield you itself becomes a major loophole and a topic of concern for the side, the magnificent sight of lifting silverwares does become erratic, isn’t it?
The wildfire did extinguish last season when Monsieur Wenger charmed Petr Čech and took his away from their arch rivals Chelsea. Čech cultivated the attribute of solidity and his influence at the club can be epitomised from the fact that he bagged the Premier League Golden Glove last season.
It was Čech who was overlooked and underappreciated by the west London outfit for the sake of pushing Thibaut Courtois as their no. 1, which backfired as the Belgian had a terrible campaign. Ah, the irony! Čech’s calming influence, ability to command the back four, impeccable positional sense, aversion to errors in judgments along with the wealth of experience he has will undoubtedly make him a starter next season, particularly after 16 clean sheets he clocked in the league which proved that he still has the mettle left in him.
Apart from the Czech Republican, the Gunners have two very decent backups in their books, David Ospina being one. Ospina, who had a stupendous Copa América Centenario in the United States lately, is unarguably one of the most underrated keepers in the top tier of English football.
The Columbian was heavily criticised for his flaws in a Champions League fixture that had put Arsenal’s hopes of progression in jeopardy, but what were forgotten were all that he gave to the club and the quality he possess which very few out there could better. The 27-year-old is outrageously athletic, makes acrobatic saves every now and then, quite sound in dealing with the one-on-one circumstances and his calibre is not unfamiliar to Monsieur Wenger who is keen to keep him next season.
The conundrum for picking the no. 2 starts with the availability of Polish keeper and fan-favourite Wojciech Szczęsny. He is someone Wenger has nurtured but seeing him deputized as a third-choice goalkeeper hurts indeed. The 26-year-old is at that point of his career when he must be plying his trade week in and week out, and that may be a factor why we could witness him in the AS Roma shirt once again as another loan spell to Stadio Olimpico looks quite imminent. The very confident and talented goalie suffers from over casualness at times which is why he is finding himself in doldrums at the moment.
Just when you thought the puzzle could get no tougher, let me throw some light on another Arsenal youngster Emiliano Martínez. The youngster is a very able goalkeeper and is undoubtedly a roughly polished diamond that can be trusted with first-team responsibilities in the future. But, should he not be fighting for a berth in the starting line up and be affixed as the club’s no. 2 as well? The scenario is unprecedented and Wenger will feel the heat while deputizing the last line of defence next season.
If I were in the shoes of Wenger, I would have avoided of fire for one more season. Čech is in the wrong end of thirties and the manager would seek an heir to the talismanic goalkeeper. For the sake of brevity, I would ship Szczęsny and Martínez out on loan and see how well does Ospina compete with Čech for the spot between the sticks. If the Columbian fares well enough, he should be opted as the successor after Čech calls it a day in English football and Szczęsny should then look for other avenues.
Ospina’s failure would have the Pole a chance to finish the unfinished business at Arsenal while Martínez and Matt Macey (another Arsenal’s promising young goalkeeper) should make take the opportunity of throwing himself in the limelight by a series of solid consistent performances with a loan move. It will be interesting to see who departs and who stays, but it is indeed good to see Wenger striking off his goalkeeping woes with professionalism finally.