In my preview of the season just past I said that Arsenal were not quite good enough to take Chelsea's title off them, but I thought they had a real chance of finishing second. As it turned out Chelsea made a mess of their title defence and Manchester United stepped into the void to claim the title at ease in the end. At the end of February Arsenal were the only genuine challengers to United, but their late collapse saw them finish a poor fourth.
I'm going to review the season over the next few days, and I'll split the review into a few different sections. Firstly I'll deal with the goalkeepers, followed by the defence, the midfield, and then the attack. I'll try to judge each player on how he performed over the season, and whether he lived up to expectations or not.
First of all there was the Arsenal goalkeeping situation, and the three players who held that position during the season. By the end of the season Wojciech Szczesny had made more appearances than the both Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia, and in my opinion he was the best of the three too. At the start of the season Szczesny hinted that he would be prepared to leave Arsenal if he didn't get a chance in the first team, but by the end of the season he had shown why he had such confidence in his own abilities.
Of course as always with Arsenal the goalkeeping situation had it's fair share of drama throughout the season. Arsene Wenger spent last summer trying to buy a new keeper, but when he failed he kept Almunia as his first choice. Fabianski looked like he would be first choice until his disastrous performance in the 6-5 pre-season friendly victory over Legia Warsaw. As the games went by early in the season it was clear that Almunia was not the man for the job, but it wasn't until he picked up an "injury" in the home defeat to West Bromwich Albion that he was left out.
Almunia's omission paved the way for Fabianski to take his place between the posts, and he performed admirably most of the time. There was a notable mistake in the 1-0 home defeat against Newcastle United, but other than that game he looked confident and assured. As always with Arsenal he picked up an injury when he was playing well, and Szczesny was drafted into the team.
From the first game Szczesny played it was obvious to me why he has so much confidence in his own ability. At last Arsenal had a goalkeeper who looked like he had the potential to be genuinely world class. He shows the confidence needed for a goalkeeper, and he's not afraid to come off his line and dominate his penalty area.
He knows how to make himself big when he is faced with a one on one, and he has been compared to Peter Schmeichel in that aspect of his game. In my opinion Arsenal do not need to spend one single penny on a new goalkeeper this summer, and the money saved can be used to strengthen the squad in other areas. Of course Szczesny hasn't been perfect, but nobody is perfect.
The fundamentals of his game are so much better than Almunia's, and Fabianski's too in my opinion. His high profile mix up with Laurent Koscielny in the last minute of the Carling Cup final cost Arsenal the trophy, and probably caused their season to implode. I am still of the opinion that Szczesny called for the ball, and the mistake was down to Koscielny.
I cannot see any way back for Almunia, and the only real option for him is to move away from Arsenal this summer. The stumbling block to that move could be his wage demands, as he will hardly be joining a high profile team. He has gone beyond the point of no return with Arsenal and their fans, and it would not be good for him or the fans if he did play again.
Fabianski was a little unfortunate to get injured when he did, as he looked like he had finally put all of his earlier mistakes behind him. I think he's good enough to act as cover for Szczesny, but it looks like his chances of making the goalkeeper's shirt his own are gone. If Szczesny picks up an injury at some stage he might get a chance to reclaim the jersey, but in the long term I cannot see him keeping it.
Szczesny is the future as far as I am concerned, but he still has a lot to learn in some aspects of his game. His kicking and distribution could certainly be improved, but they can be worked on. He has the bravery needed to play in goal, and also he shows just a little bit of the insanity that is needed to make a top class goalkeeper too.
Hopefully he will improve as the years go by, and he will be Arsenal's first choice goalkeeper for the next 10 years at least. He's only 21 years old, and goalkeepers don't usually reach their prime before they are 30. Arsenal can look forward to having one of the best goalkeepers in the world between the posts, and it could be just what they need to make the next step and start winning trophies again.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at how Szczesny won his tussle with Gareth Bale.
See You Tomorrow