It’s fair to say the goalkeeping situation is unstable right now. Just as it seemed Wojciech Szczesny established himself as a proper number 1 during the run-in in 2012-2013 season (even Ospina admitted he was initially brought in as back-up,) an atrocious start of 2014-2015 campaign, discipline issues and a particularly feeble performance from the Pole resulted in Arsene dropping Woj. And we haven’t looked back since. Ospina came in, provided us with his calming presence, stable performances and 7 clean sheets in 13 games. Wojciech, despite making three appearances in the FA Cup, did nothing to suggest he should be reinstated and is left to observe games from the bench, sulking more and more with every passing match. His position became so unprivileged, that rumours emerged he might leave us this summer and Cech might come in.Even if that does happen, however, would the Czech become our number 1? Does Ospina deserve to be dropped on the merit of his recent performances? I’d like to say “no” to both these questions.
The uncertainty of the situation is new to me and, maybe, to a healthy portion of other Arsenal supporters. And so this article won’t be as much about our current situation (God knows it’s been done to death already), rather, I’ll look at our goalkeepers past and their respective places in ever-changing Arsenal sides. (In brackets I specify the time a goalkeeper was an actual №1, not his time at the Club).
Jens Lehmann (2003-2007)
I’m starting with the German because he was our number 1 when my journey as an Arsenal fan began. I didn’t watch a lot of games back in 2004 (and this trend continued for the number of years after. You see, as a pupil, my notion of support hasn’t yet reached the highs of watching every single game. I only started doing that roughly five years ago, maybe even four).
But I vividly remember the first game I saw: a 2-2 draw against Bolton, headed by Sam Allardyce back then, unless I’m much mistaken. Despite the fact we’ve let in two goals, I grew to like Lehmann from that moment on and I was not alone.
I recall Lehmann having a rather lengthy lay-off due to injury, with Almunia deputising for the German for roughly ten games. Jens was greeted like a hero when he finally returned.
But my sharpest recollection of Lehmann as someone I admire even now was the 2005-2006 campaign. We wobbled heavily in the league, securing the fourth place in the last game (sounds familiar?), though we were brilliantly tenacious in the Champions League. I’ve seen Arsenal beat Real at the Barnabeu (with Henry’s help), pummel Juventus at Highbury courtesy to goals from Fabregas and Henry and then scrape past Villarreal in the semis.
Who was the hero during the run that saw us wrack up ten clean sheets, six of them in playoffs? That’s right, Jens Lehmann. Though this campaign will be remembered as another near miss, for me it was no less thrilling because of the man between the sticks.
Lehmann wasn’t the best goalkeeper around. He wasn’t even first-choice in the German national team, Kahn was. But Jens firmly believed he was the best and this belief was visible throughout his performances. He never hid from mistakes and his mere presence instilled confidence in even the most make-shift defences. He emanated the kind of composure our keepers lacked ever since.
Manuel Almunia (2007-2011)
Is it unfair that I will remember Manuel for the two goals he conceded in 2006 against Barcelona? It probably is. Arsene demonstrated enough faith in the Spaniard to drop Lehmann twice: in 2004-2005 for a short period of time and later for good in 2007-2008 season.However, I cannot recall any moments of brilliance from Almunia.
That doesn’t mean he was a bad goalkeeper. He was a decent one, but he found himself the victim of the circumstances. He had to hold the fort in what was arguably the darkest period in our recent history. Even Lehmann struggled in two seasons prior to his departure from the Club as the Invincible back four slowly but surely dissipated what could we expect of Almunia?
Was the Spaniard in a position to do better than he did? It’s hard to say. I never thought Giroud would reach the heights he did when we initially signed him. Hark work and dedication paid off for the Frenchman. For me, Almunia will forever remain in Lehmann’s shadow and will mostly be remembered for his rushes of blood (more than just occasional and nervous attitude.
Lukasz Fabianski (2007-2014)
Much like Manuel Almunia before him, Fabianski will mostly be remembered for being second-choice, only the elder Pole played second fiddle to Wojciech Szczesny. Despite the fact Szczesny became our №1 only in 2011-2012 and Almunia was on his last legs for the entirety of 2010-2011 campaign, Fabianski failed to establish himself during that season. The window of opportunity he had was pretty narrow, truth be told, however, Fab had his chance.
There was a lot of talk about how brilliant Fabianski was in training, yet time and again he failed to convert his brilliance into on-pitch performances. I have no clear recollections of the Pole doing anything of note or, indeed, putting a run together in the starting XI before 2012-2013 campaign.
You all remember how it went, right? We lost to Bayern 3-1 at home and Szczesny got sent off. Mere days after that we lost in the North London derby (it still hurts, that game was winnable. Spurs weren’t great; they just capitalized on Vermaelen’s and Woj’s poor performances). Szczesny was suspended in the return leg against Bayern and Fabianski started in goal and Lukasz produced a performance nothing short of brilliant. We won 2-0 at the Allianz, fending off Bayern for 80 minutes and Fabianski was the hero. He kept his place in the starting eleven in several consecutive games, but sustained yet another injury and firmly lost his place to Szczesny.
However I will remember (how many times have I used that word already?) Fabianski for his last season with us. Second to a brilliant Szczesny (who got the Golden Glove in the end), Lukasz produced a string of professional performances in the FA Cup as we defeated Tottenham 2-0, then Coventry 4-1, then Liverpool 2-1 and Everton 4-1, before we took on Wigan and, finally, Hull. Fabianski later confessed he told Arsene in December he would leave in the summer and yet Arsene played Fabianski in all FA Cup games, including the final. And boy did it pay off.
Wojciech Szczesny (2006-present)
Almunia, Fabianski and him (to a lesser extent) have one nasty trait in common: all three have rushes of blood. None of them can exactly be called calm and that’s why I like Ospina very much (more on the Colombian anon).
However, Wojciech also has the makings of a great goalkeeper because of his cockiness. In this regard he strongly reminds me of Lehmann and you can’t fancy a guy who shares even a little something with Mad Jens.
Wojciech’s downfall is his discipline and his inconsistency. One season he’s too hot, the other he’s too cold. I guess it’s also down to his temperament; you just can’t be cocky and consistent at the same time, but look where it had led Woj. He’s second-choice, it doesn’t look like he’ll be reinstated anytime soon and Poland’s national coach has already stated Fabianski will be the №1. There are rumours afloat Szczesny will leave and you can’t say, looking at how things stand, that it will be a huge surprise.
David Ospina (2014-present)
Righto, though the sample is still small, I like what I’ve seen from the Colombian. I like it very much. If his performances could be likened to a girl, she would look like this:
The Colombian is the first goalkeeper since Lehmann (for me) that has well and truly instilled confidence in our defenders. Sure, he had most likely benefited from playing behind a stable back four (Bellerin-Mert-Kos-Monreal + Coquelin), a luxury Szczesny didn’t have but he has, to my mind, demonstrated the qualities Szczesny lacks: calmness and consistency. And we all know how Arsene loves consistency.
The verdict It’ll be interesting to see how things progress over the course of the last two months of the season and then in the summer. There are several scenarios I can see right now:
- Ospina stays fit (don’t jinx it!), cements his place as №1. Szczesny leaves, Martinez gets a promotion and we buy a rookie goalkeeper or push someone like Huddart in the first team.
- Ospina doesn’t stay fit. Szczesny returns, puts together a decent run and reclaims his spot. No one comes in during the summer, Martinez may leave.
- Ospina doesn’t stay fit, Szczesny returns, does nothing of note or (which is infinitely worse) produces a series of below-par performances and we revisit point 1.
Alright, that’s it. Hope I gave you something to chew on. If so, voice your thoughts in the comments section below. And don’t forget to check out the latest Gunners Town feature called “Thank Bergkamp It’s Friday!” – Worth your time.
We would be keen to hear your thoughts on the possibility of bring in Cech or now that Jack Butland has signed a new deal at Stole is that an acceptance that Begovic wants Champions League next season – Leave a comment below.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.