In the Tao of Wenger there are three things that make a great player: Talent, Attitude (or Application), and Opportunity. A player can have great talent and work hard to hone it, but without an opportunity to work with a great coach and play on a good team he will never be a great player. A player can have great attitude and plenty of opportunity but without the talent, he’s just a mid-level footballer. And a player can have great talent and plenty of chances, but if he doesn’t have the right attitude, if he doesn’t work hard in training, and if he doesn’t correct his mistakes, he’s Nicholas Anelka.
As for Wojciech Szczesny’s there is no question of his talent. As far back as 2010, while still on loan to Brentford, Wenger said,
I believe one day he will be the No 1 at Arsenal certainly. But we will see next season. It is down to his performances.
People scoffed at the notion of this young Pole taking over the role that greats like Seaman and Wilson had once manned but Wenger wasn’t the only one high on the whiff of Szczesny’s talents. Jens Lehmann, Arsenal’s Invincibles keeper, felt the same. After Szczesny took the starting spot from Manuel Almunia Jens Lehmann echoed that sentiment saying,
“He has got everything he needs apart from the experience and the maturity, so he needs to work hard. He is very talented.”
Another year and another series of great performances by Szczesny had the boss once again singing his praises. Szczesny had given away a spot kick on a dive by Luis Suarez but then saved a Dirk Kuyt penalty and blocked the rebound as the crowd behind him went mental.
He earned a lot of praise that day and the compliments flowed like wine. Straight after the 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield, Wenger said,
He was outstanding at Liverpool and I am the first to say that when he deserves it. For me, he is an outstanding talent with an outstanding future. But talent without effort is nothing. he knows that and I have to make sure he knows that.
Szcz played in 48 Arsenal matches in 2011-12 but the next season lost his place to Fabianski after an infamous 2-1 loss to Tottenham in March of 2013. Szczesny made two glaring errors in that game and in the following match Wojciech Szczesny was replaced by fellow Pole Lukasz Fabianski, under the pretense that he “needed a breather.” Fabianski did fine and might have kept Szczesny out of the first team for the remainder of the season if not for an injury.
But Szczesny has a knack for the dramatic comeback. This is a ‘keeper who once broke both arms and returned to playing the next year. So, Szczesny took the gloves from Fabianski and played 46 times for Arsenal the next season, keeping 16 League clean sheets, and sharing the Golden Glove award with Chelsea’s number one, Petr Cech.
Everyone by now agreed that Szczesny was a real talent. And so he started last season firmly installed as Arsenal’s number one. He had a whole season behind him as an award winning keeper, and with 152 Arsenal games under his belt at age just 24, was a vastly experienced young man. Wenger heaped praise on him with this offering,
“What I am sure is that he has the potential to be a historical goalkeeper for Arsenal Football Club,” the boss said. “That will depend on how much he continues to focus, to have the desire to be better, to have the desire to put the hard work in. He is a very young man. I personally believe his composure is better, his reading of the game is better, his level of concentration is much stronger and it comes out with his numbers.”
There is no question that the talent is there with Szczesny. And with 181 games under his belt and the fact that he has been reinstated several times after being dropped, it is safe to say that Szczesny has been given ample opportunity to be Arsenal’s permanent No.1.That leaves only question marks over his attitude and application.
In every single quote above the people have warned Szczesny about not only keeping clean sheets but also about keeping the right attitude. They warned him to keep training hard, stay focused, and not let complacency slip in.
But last season, it looked like complacency had slipped in the back door. Szczesny had 6 defensive errors in just 17 starts. Only one player in the League had more defensive errors last season, Robert Green.
Two of those errors were in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton on January 1st. He made two errors in that game and after the second, went straight for the water bottle. You could say it was an admission that he’d bottled it.
But worse than the errors in the game was the reported reaction after. We don’t know what actually happened in the locker room. There are reports that there was an exchange of words between the manager and the player and that Szczesny then went off to have a smoke, while still in the stadium, and reportedly even in the locker room.
And there was at least one article, written by Sami Mokbel of Daily Mail, which painted Szczesny as unlikable among many of his teammates and the Arsenal staff and claimed that Wenger was done with Szczesny and was going to buy Petr Cech in the summer. That article was scoffed at my many but turned out prescient.
Szczesny was dropped and Ospina came in. Despite being an underwhelming ‘keeper, Arsenal did better with Ospina than they did with Szczesny: conceding just 11 goals in the last 18 games. That proved that Ospina might not be a first team starter but that he was a more than adequate backup in Wenger’s new pressing system. It also proved that Arsenal didn’t need a “historical” keeper to play good defense: they just need someone professional.
There is no doubt that Szczesny was a fan favorite. From the selfies at White Hart Lane to the double fist pumping goal celebration against Barcelona, Szczesny certainly won the fans over with his enthusiasm. Many will be sad and angered to see him go. Especially now that he seems to finally have a mentor available at the club for him to learn from in Petr Cech.
On the bright side, Roma is not a bad placement for Szczesny. They led the Serie A in possession, allowed the third fewest shots per game, and were second in goals allowed with just 31. Having played for the possession-based Arsene Wenger side of 2009-2014, Szczesny is walking into a familiar situation. This could be the perfect loan for him to go to a side which will demand the same kind of ‘keeper skills that he will need at Arsenal.
Being dropped and then loaned could also be a the kind of humbling experience that Szczesny needs to straighten out his attitude. Szczesny has said on many occasions that he doesn’t want to leave Arsenal and that he doesn’t want to go on loan and yet here he is being stripped of his Arsenal credentials and forced out the door. If Szczesny is an arrogant man, the kind of arrogant man who would publicly defy a legendary coach like Arsene Wenger, then a little humility might do him some good.
So, for those who want to hold out hope, perhaps this loan move will be good for Szczesny and he will return once again to Arsenal but this time a little more humble and with another 40 games experience. I’ve never seen a player who has made as many dramatic comebacks as he has in his career. If anyone can come back from this latest setback it’s him, just so long as he doesn’t smoke his bridges on the way out the door.