The SMR Arsenal Squad Review – The Goalkeepers

With the season over and a trophy in the cabinet, I’m going to assess the season for each member of the Arsenal squad and rate them. I’m sure there’ll be some disagreements about some of my ratings, so feel free to comment at the bottom with your thoughts. There’s only one place to start: the last line of defence.
 
1. Wojciech Szczesny
The Pole has had his best season in an Arsenal shirt, starting 37 of the 38 league games and sharing the golden glove award with Petr Cech for the most clean sheets in the Premier League. He’s been much more decisive coming out for crosses and his shot stopping has improved. Szczesny has made plenty of saves that have been crucial to Arsenal winning games, think Tottenham at home, Crystal Palace away and Cardiff away. The sign of a good goalkeeper is when they help win more points than the points their mistakes cost, and Szczesny has definitely helped win the Gunners a lot of points this season.
The downsides for him this season, like the rest of the team, are the thrashings away at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Those games badly skewed his record of goals conceded for the season, although the reality is that he was often left badly exposed in those matches. The red card against Bayern Munich was also disappointing, but I still think that was unlucky.
He’s a fans favourite and never lacks for confidence, but this season Szczesny has shown the consistency and quality to be Arsenal’s number one for many years and back up his self-belief. 24 is still very young for a goalkeeper, so it’s impressive for him to be playing so consistently under the pressure of playing every week for Arsenal.
Season Rating: 8 / 10
 
13. Emiliano Viviano
Given how Arsenal used four goalkeepers in 2012/2013 due to injuries and losses of form, the September deadline day signing of Emiliano Viviano was welcomed because it would have been a risk to go through the season with just two goalkeepers. Had Szczesny and Fabianski been unavailable at the same time, Viviano could have done well. Alas, we’ll never know. Even though he never played, I can’t bring myself to give him zero.
Season Rating: 1 / 10
 
21. Lukasz Fabianski
Even though he just made the one league appearance in a dead-rubber at Norwich, Arsenal fans will have fond memories of Lukasz Fabianski from this season. The lack of concern from fans when he was picked in the cup competitions was a sign of how much he’s no longer considered a liability. Had it not been for some exceptional performances from Wojciech Szczesny, Fabianski could easily have been the number one, and that wouldn’t have worried me.
His performance against Liverpool in the FA Cup was superb, he saved a penalty in Munich but his finest moment was undoubtedly the shoot-out heroics against Wigan. That match was most of the painful and stressful things I’ve ever experienced, but Fabianski stayed calm and relieved so much tension by saving the first two Wigan spot kicks. There was a glimpse of the old Fabianski when he came haring out at the end of extra time against Hull, but fortunately Sone Aluko missed from out wide so we can just about forgive the Pole for that one!
It’s a shame that he’s set to leave as he’s the best back-up goalkeeper in the Premier League. However on that basis, it’s very difficult to begrudge him a move as he deserves to be playing first team football. Arsenal will find it difficult to find a reserve goalkeeper that is as reliable though.
Season Rating: 7 / 10
 
Coming later in the week – The Defenders
 
Listen to the Sam’s Match Reports podcast end-of-season awards special!
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3
 

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Defeated, but Arsenal shouldn't be demoralised

Exactly a year ago to the day since Bayern Munich were last in Islington to face Arsenal in the Champions League, the German champions were back to try and repeat their 3-1 win from 2013. They did get a two goal victory again with a 2-0 lead to take into the second leg in three weeks time, however Arsenal will be a lot less demoralised than they were this time last year.
For 20 minutes or so at the start of this tie, Arsenal were excellent. The Gunners played at a high intensity, were looking to get Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the ball and utilise his pace, weren’t letting the visitors settle and were going toe to toe with the European champions. It was shaping up to be a classic game, helped by the rocking atmosphere following the well-organised card display before the game, making the Emirates look like the superb footballing arena it is. Major kudos to RedAction for making it happen. It undoubtedly helped Arsenal make a rousing start to the game.
The Gunners had the perfect opportunity to have something to show for their fast start when Boateng fouled Mesut Ozil in the box. With normal penalty takers Arteta and Giroud not playing, Ozil took the spot kick himself, but stuttered his run-up, giving Bayern keeper Neuer the chance to make a save. It might have worked for Ozil before, but I’m not a fan of stuttered run-ups. Just put your foot through the ball!
At 11 v 11, Arsenal were right in the game. They were controlling Bayern well and looked dangerous on the attack. However all of that changed with some unsurprising brainless refereeing. As much as we moan about referees in England, it should be genuinely embarrassing for UEFA that the quality of the refereeing in their major competitions is so poor. Arjen Robben spun in behind the Arsenal defence and miscontrolled the ball as it dropped over his head. Wojciech Szczesny came out to make himself big expecting to have to make a save, caught Robben and a penalty was given. That was fair enough.
However, the red card that followed for Szczesny was ludicrous. Was it a foul? Yes. Did Szczesny cynically prevent a clear goal scoring opportunity? No. There was no way Robben would have reached the ball to score after he was brought down, and no way that Szczesny was looking to foul him. Suddenly Arsenal had to sacrifice an attacking outfielder to get substitute goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski on, and they had to play over an hour against one of the best teams around with 10 men. David Alaba missed the subsequent spot kick, but the red card effectively ruined the contest as Arsenal had to be more defensive.
Overall, the Arsenal defence stood up well to Bayern’s continued waves of attack and constant pressure. The problem was that Arsenal struggled to get any possession in the Bayern half, meaning that they were pinned back and couldn’t momentarily relieve any pressure. It says a lot about Arsenal’s defending though that before a tired back line was punctured late-on by Thomas Muller, it had only been a wonder strike from Toni Kroos that was the difference between the teams.
Whilst there ultimately wasn’t much focus on him as Arsenal had to defend so much with ten men, it was notable that Yaya Sanogo was picked up front again by Arsene Wenger, instead of Olivier Giroud. Whatever has or hasn’t gone on in Giroud’s private life, he needs to get his head straight otherwise he won’t be much help during the season run-in. Hopefully being left out of such a huge European game will be a wake-up call to knuckle down and not get involved in any off-the-field activities the night before a game.
Fortunately, unlike previous seasons, the Champions League isn’t the only possible trophy left for Arsenal, with very real title and FA Cup chances still alive. That still doesn’t stop it being immensely frustrating that a spirited Arsenal performance was affected by a sending off against a big European team. Qualification will be very difficult in the second leg, especially if there is more bizarre refereeing in a big UEFA match.

The Ox fires Arsenal back to the top

Even if just temporarily, Arsenal are back at the top of the Premier League. Despite some negativity about the lack of transfer activity, and the one player that was signed being injured, Arsenal produced another professional performance to beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
The Gunners weren’t at their flowing best, but like for much of the season, they stayed focussed, made sure they were solid at the back and then created enough decisive moments to win the game. Four of the last five matches at the Emirates have ended in 2-0 home wins, showing that Arsenal are finding Arsene Wenger’s much talked about consistency. Manchester City are going for the title by battering most things that get in their way. Arsenal aren’t being explosive, but are being as effective at picking up points.
The two Arsenal goals on Sunday came from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as he netted for the first time since returning from injury. He was playing in a deeper central midfield role alongside Mikel Arteta, but he used that to his advantage to make bursts into the box to score twice. For the first goal, he made a late run that went unnoticed, with Santi Cazorla picking him out with a superb pass. The Ox had more work to do for his second goal, but he burst forward following excellent hold-up play by Olivier Giroud. For both goals, Oxlade-Chamberlain showed good pace to run at the heart at the Crystal Palace defence and came up with two good finishes.
Given Arsenal were missing Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini, it was encouraging to see Oxlade-Chamberlain stand up and take responsibility in the centre of the pitch. The Gunners still have options in the midfield, and even though the Ox is likely to be needed on the wing at times for the rest of the season, he does offer something different when playing in central midfield. Arsenal’s midfield two were too defensive against Southampton on Tuesday, but with Oxlade-Chamberlain willing to burst forward at pace from centre, that wasn’t the case on Sunday.
With players missing in the centre, Kim Kallstrom was brought in on deadline day until the end of the season. However, for the period of time where he might have been most useful with others unavailable, Kallstrom will also be on the treatment table with a back injury. It was known about when he signed, so it does raise many questions about why the Swede was brought in. It seems bizarre, but shouldn’t detract from Arsenal’s good form.
Against Crystal Palace, the defence was good again, with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny continuing their incredible unbeaten run when they complete games for the team. On the rare occasions that Palace did manage to manoeuvre their way past the Gunners’ centre-backs, they couldn’t find a way past Wojciech Szczesny. He has two more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the league this season, and is definitely winning the Gunners points rather than making mistakes that cost them. His sprawling save from a header at the back post in the second half was particularly important with the game not safe at that point.
The win sets Arsenal up for a big few weeks, and enables them to sit back and watch Manchester City and Chelsea slug it out on Monday night. Only a Manchester City win will move Arsenal back to second place in the table, and with Liverpool also dropping points this weekend, the Gunners will have gained ground on other teams around them. The slight slip at Southampton is behind them and they can take confidence into the massive run of games.
Even with the bizarre situation of the new signing being injured, Arsenal still have a strong squad in midfield, and different players are ready to stand-up and make a difference in the title race. Back from injury, the Ox showed on Sunday that he is one of those.