SMR end-of-season review 2014-2015: The Goalkeepers

In the first of the end-of-season review posts, I’m going to assess Arsenal’s goalkeepers. Each player will get a rating and a one-word summary for the season (I’m giving myself license to use a hyphen if necessary!).
1. Wojciech Szczesny
Having started the season as the number one, and the Premier League’s golden glove holder, it was hoped that 2014-2015 would be the season that Wojciech Szczesny really kicked on and dispelled doubts over his place in the team. He wasn’t helped by a changing back four in front of him, but the Pole looked edgy in the first half of the season. His ability as a shot stopper has never been in question, but his commanding of the penalty area, decision making and distribution did come into focus during the campaign.
He was much more commanding in the FA Cup final after he’d been dropped from league duties following the smoking debacle at Southampton. A big season awaits, especially if top level competition is signed.
One-word summary: Ousted
Rating: 5/10
13. David Ospina
Signed following the departure of Lukasz Fabianski, David Ospina was barely seen in the first half of the season because of injury problems. When he did establish himself in the first team, Arsenal’s form picked up as Ospina brought a much-needed calmness between the sticks. He was helped by Mertesacker and Koscielny’s partnership settling down, but Ospina did well when called upon. I’m still not convinced that he is the top-level goalkeeper that many suggest Arsenal need, and a few flaps at shots near the end of the season reinforced that, but his record in the second half of the season was good. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Ospina should a new goalkeeper arrive, especially as the Colombian will get back to pre-season late because of the Copa America, so could find himself as the third-choice goalkeeper, which would seem a bit harsh.
One-word summary: ooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOSPINAaaaa
Rating: 6/10
26. Emiliano Martinez
Due to injuries, Emiliano Martinez saw some Premier League and Champions League action in the first half of the season, and he looked much-improved compared to the goalkeeper seen in the Capital One Cup two seasons previously (he was the man in goal in the crazy 7-5 win at Reading). He then went to Rotherham late in the season as an emergency loan signing for the Championship side, where he also impressed. Martinez is still young for a goalkeeper, so another loan spell could follow next season, especially if a new keeper arrives.
One-word summary: Developing
Rating: 5/10

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Arsenal survive a crazy fourth round

When the fourth round draw was made for the FA Cup, it didn’t seem like the most exciting way the balls could have been pulled out the bowl. The majority of the top teams were playing lower league opposition and it seemed like they’d all get through comfortably. As it turned out, it was one of the best fourth rounds the FA Cup has ever seen, with Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton, Tottenham and Swansea all suffering surprise (and in most cases hilarious) defeats, while Liverpool and Manchester United have to go through replays against lower league sides.
Considering the results that had gone previously, Arsenal will be relieved to have made it through to round five, despite the 3-2 victory at Brighton being closer than it should have been. For the majority of the game, Arsenal were in complete control of the game, kept the ball well, created chances and always looked dangerous going forward. The hosts from the Championship punished Arsenal’s two slack defensive moments, but couldn’t create a late chance to grab a replay.
Apart from obviously winning the game, the main positive for Arsene Wenger was the game time he was able to give Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil, and that both players scored. Walcott has looked very rusty since returning from knee and groin injuries, and while he still made a few poor decisions that slowed down attacking moves at the AMEX, it was by far Walcott’s best appearance since his injury problems. It was helped by scoring so early in the game as he controlled Chambers’ ball into the box and fired into the bottom corner. Walcott’s misses this season have come from over-thinking the situation, but against Brighton, his finish was instinctive and crisp.
It knocked the stuffing out of Brighton early on as the hosts couldn’t build any moment in the first half. Arsenal passed the ball around beautifully, and it wasn’t a surprise to see the intricate passes bring the second goal. Normally the assist-maker, Mesut Ozil was on the receiving end of a cracking through ball from Tomas Rosicky, and the German showed no signs of rustiness to control well and clinically finish.
Considering the problems Premier League clubs had on Saturday, Arsenal were giving a lesson in how to avoid an upset on Sunday with a professional performance. But Brighton were reinvigorated in the second half, and lackadaisical play from Chambers, Flamini and Koscielny allowed O’Grady time and space to score. Having seen Chelsea blow a 2-0 lead on Saturday, everyone was waiting for the FA Cup fourth round to throw up another unlikely twist, but Tomas Rosicky had other ideas.
Given the captain’s armband in the absence of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, Rosicky constantly gave drove Arsenal forward with his bursts of pace and clever forward passing, but his most decisive contribution came at a time in the game when Arsenal could have panicked following Brighton’s first goal. Rosicky played an excellent blind pass to Giroud before volleying the chipped return in from the edge of the area. It was a quality goal, and showed how useful it is to have a player as good as Rosicky available to rotate in when needed. Having not played too often in the first half of the season, the Czech international brings a freshness to the team, and can be hugely important in the rest of the season with the FA Cup and Champions League still to play for.
Arsenal made things hard for themselves again by letting the hosts back in the game with 15 minutes to go. Nacho Monreal, filling in at centre-back with Per Mertesacker rested and arrival of Gabriel Paulista yet to be confirmed, got drawn out of the back four allowing Baldock in behind to clip the ball past Wojciech Szczesny.
The Gunners did see the game out well for the rest of the match as Francis Coquelin gave an impressive cameo performance off the bench as he helped sure up the midfield. Brighton couldn’t create a clear opportunity, and ultimately were fortunate to not concede more with some cynical fouls on Alexis Sanchez and Chuba Akpom when the Gunners broke away.
Ultimately, it was a job well done from Arsenal, even if it should have been more comfortable. Some key players were given a much-needed rest and others that needed minutes got them, and played well. It was notable that Arsene Wenger continued his cup-keeper policy of giving the second choice stopper a run-out, meaning Wojciech Szczesny was back between the sticks for the first time since his horror show at Southampton. He couldn’t do too much about the two Brighton goals, but otherwise went fairly untroubled because of the dominance the Gunners had for the majority of the game. Without being properly tested, Szczesny wasn’t able to put in a performance that is likely to dislodge David Ospina from the Premier League line-up against Aston Villa next weekend.
With other big sides out, Arsenal are now one of the favourites for the tournament, but whoever the draws picks out for the Gunners on Monday, this weekend has reinforced that nothing can be taken for granted in the FA Cup. In round four, Arsenal heeded the warnings of those who failed before them and hopefully will continue to do so as the tournament progresses.

Arsenal beauty beats Stoke’s beasts

It does baffle me slightly when Stoke fans bemoan the reputation their club has gained since their promotion to the Premier League. In comparison to any other team that comes to the Emirates Stadium every season, the Stoke players look massive. Bojan looked out-of-place lining up alongside them against Arsenal as, apart from Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud, the Stoke players towered above the Gunners physically. As a team, they try to rough up the opposition with significant jostling, long balls and some needlessly strong tackling.
Stoke’s strategy has worked too often for them against Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium, but at the Emirates Stadium, they struggle to live with the beauty of Arsenal against their beasts. The Gunners’ comfortable 3-0 win was a prime example of that as Alexis Sanchez helped Arsenal run rings round the Potters and register a confidence boosting win.
The FA Cup win over Hull was good, but it didn’t feel like a proper test of Arsenal and how they’d respond to the disappointing defeat to Southampton, giving the first league game at the Emirates Stadium in 2015 an extra bit of significance. Along with the need to right a lot of wrongs from that first half capitulation at Stoke last month, there was a lot to play for, and Arsenal started in a manner that suggested they weren’t going to allow the same thing to happen again.
Too often this season, Arsenal have started games slowly and allowed the opposition the chance to slowly build pressure on a fragile defence, but there was none of that against Stoke. With the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all looking to get forward at pace, Arsenal started at a high intensity. Begovic had to be sharp to deny Alexis and Rosicky in the opening moments.
Even just six minutes into the game, it felt like the opening goal was coming when Laurent Koscielny ghosted into space in the middle of the penalty area and guided a header into the corner from a great cross from Alexis. For a team famed for their work at set-pieces, it was astonishing to see Koscielny have a free header from 10 yards out against the Stoke defence, but it was good movement from the Frenchman to escape the attentions of the defenders.
Stoke did gain a little bit more possession after Arsenal opened the scoring following their barnstorming start to the game, but they struggled to test David Ospina. Keeping his place after the cup clean sheet against Hull, Ospina had another relatively straightforward game as Stoke struggled to create any clear opportunities. Picking the Colombian does send a strong message from Arsene Wenger to Wojciech Szczesny, stronger than any fine does, about the Pole’s need to improve discipline and mistakes. It’ll be interesting to see if Wenger gives Ospina a run in the side, and therefore start him at Manchester City next weekend, and make Szczesny the ‘cup keeper’, with the Pole getting a chance at Brighton a week later. Even though he hasn’t been properly tested, it’s hard to drop Ospina after two clean sheets.
Arsenal continued to look dangerous every time they attacked in the first half as Begovic was regularly tested. The team looked much better for having Olivier Giroud back as a focal point up front, and even though the Frenchman didn’t score or get an assist, he occupied the centre-backs well, creating space for those around him. No-one profited more from that space than Alexis Sanchez.
Just past the half-hour mark, the Chilean exchanged passes neatly with Tomas Rosicky before driving into the box. He shaped to open his body up to curl the ball into the far corner, but caught both Ryan Shawcross and Asmir Begovic out by fizzing the ball in at the near post. The brilliance of the disguise on the shot was matched by the power he generated from barely any back-lift. For all the faults in the team this season, and there have been plenty, it’s still amazing to think that Alexis Sanchez is an Arsenal player. He’s fantastically talented, but he makes sure he gets the most from his talent by working so hard.
It was no surprise that he scored the third goal, although there was a bit more luck about this one. Seeing how tall the Stoke wall was, Alexis went to fire it under the jumping wall, but the shot took a deflection and squirmed into the net via Begovic and the post. The goal effectively clinched the game and meant Arsenal could cruise through the rest of the match without many scares.
It gave Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott the opportunity to get some much needed minutes off the bench. Walcott had a glorious chance to give Arsenal a fourth goal, but like against Hull last week, the finish was disappointing. It’s encouraging that Walcott is getting into dangerous positions, but he just needs one to go in. Walcott is a stereotypical confidence player, so hopefully he can get that first goal back sooner rather, and his form will quickly pick up.
The main negative from the game was the injury to Mathieu Debuchy. It was a nasty and needless push from Marko Arnautovic when the ball was off the pitch, sending the Frenchman towards the advertising boards, with the awkward landing dislocating his shoulder. Hector Bellerin came on and played very well, but given the paucity of options at the back, another injury in defence isn’t welcome. It could force Arsene Wenger’s hand in the transfer market, especially if the diagnosis isn’t good. Preventable muscle injuries are one thing, but an impact injury like that from a stupid shove is incredibly annoying.
That was the only disappointment in an otherwise excellent afternoon for the Gunners. Players are returning, the defence is looking more solid and we’ve got Alexis Sanchez.