We are just a game away from playing 19 games in the Premier League, which means we have now played every team in the league, bar one. I think it is fair for us to evaluate how the players have performed throughout the season until now, we can also see where they need to improve, if they need to be sold or who can be bought to capitalise on their talent. In this first instalment, I will look at the Goalkeepers then afterwards I will look at all the other positions, everyone will be graded, from the depressing UNGRADED (U) to the phenomenal Grade (A+).
The goalkeeping department has been one of the positions where there has been not much competition. We have had one dominant figure, Wojciech Tomasz Szczęsny, he has had little competition and when his so-called competitors were given the chance, they fell flat on their faces. So forgive me for making him the focal point of my analysis because I do not have much more to work with, with the other Goalkeepers.
Szczesny has played most of Arsenal’s games so far this season, he has been what a lot of fans consider, “the stability we needed at the back”. In Szczesny we have someone who does not seem to make too many mistakes and continues to win the plaudits in the media. Arsene Wenger himself, recently said:
“He is one of the best already in his first season [in the starting line-up],”
“He has, like the team I must say, a promising future. We are confident that if he keeps his attitude and determination to do well he can be one of the best.”
One thing you can not take away from Szczesny is his confidence, even before he was picked by Arsene Wenger to start a game, he CHALLENGED the boss to do it, being convinced he was ready after a loan spell at Brentford. His first Premier League game he played against Manchester United and did not seem that fazed by the occasion, better yet, his first Champions League game he played against Barcelona and exhibited the same bravado.
So far this season Szczesny has shipped in a total of 26 goals in 18 games with 6 clean sheets. At the Emirates, he has only conceded 6 goals compared to 20 on the road. of course he is not solely responsible for goals conceded but like the defenders it one of the ways you are judged. The 8 goals at Old Trafford might be partly responsible for the high number of goals conceded but just like clean sheets, you take the good with the bad.
I tried to look up some stats on the four goalkeepers at Arsenal, especially Szczesny, but the more I did, the more I realised that it is too complex to judge a goalkeepers performance simply by his stats. For example, the shots they save could either be a tame header aimed at him or a terrific display of agility. So I thought, the average fan’s opinion is also important on this. Before we argue about Stats, let’s have a look at a few, as usual my main source is @Orbinho on Twitter and the other from @goonerdesi
Here is a comparison between Almunia, Fabianski and Szczesny between 2008 and 2011, This was compiled by DesiGunner for eplindex.com when Szczesny had played 13 games but it gives an interesting insight.
Average save percentage of Arsenal goalkeepers in all competitions has been, Almunia 66.4%/79 shots, Fabianski 69.4/43 and Szczesny 64.8/83 shots.
As the Stats put it, Szczesny has the top two (goals conceded/game) with an average of 1.77 this season and 1.27 last season, getting worse? He also has the 3rd worst (minutes/defensive errors), after Fabianski and Almunia. With defensive errors, I think Szczesny’s are hardly seen because they don’t ussually cost the team the game. This, in my opinion is an important factor.
The positives from these Stats for Szczesny are, he has the second highest (games/clean sheet), this season averaging a clean sheet every 3.25 games. Szczesny is two times better at dealing with crosses than Fabianski.
The reading from the Stats imply to me that Szczesny is maybe a shade better than Almunia, but what makes a great Goalkeeper to me, is someone who instills confidence in his team mates and lets them get on with doing their job than worrying if he is going to be able to do his job. Szczesney gives his team mates confidence compared to Almunia and Fabianksi.
After comparing Szcesney with other Arsenal goalkeepers, I took a look at Orbinho’s comparison of Szczesny and Friedel, the Spurs Goalkeeper.
Games Played 18 17
Goals Conceded 26 19
Save % 61 79
diving saves% 65 42
51% of saves done by Premier League goalkeepers have been diving saves this season. Szczesny is obviously better at this than his Spurs counterpart, but, once again, Szczesny is beaten when it comes to save percentage, which can also be influenced by dodgy defending.
- Positioning – His positioning has sometimes not been the wisest, even though he is miles ahead of Fabianski, he still gets caught out especially with long-range shots. e.g most recent Tottenham games
- Organising defence on set-pieces – The Horror show at Old Trafford could have been (partly) avoided by better organisation of the wall and his personal position
- Concentration – It is difficult sometimes to be involved in a game that you are rarely involved, when you are needed, it could be very important. e.g Wolves game, 1 shot on target = 1goal, team draws after 70% possession.
- Being vocal – He always talks to his defenders and it helps them to know where he wants them to stand.
- Making Excellent agile saves – Against Manchester City we saw how agile he is, he and Hart put on a marvelous show.
- Confidence – Szczesny does not lack in confidence, even his girlfriend once told The Sun newspaper that he was back to his normal self after 24 hours from the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford.
Szczesny is only 21, he probably has another 20 years to go in his career and you can tell he is probably going to be one of the greats. Him and Joe Hart are the two most impressive young Goalkeepers in the league and I’m sure Arsene Wenger will be able to iron out any chinks in his Armour.
Current Ability/Potential ability: **/*****
Almunia has hardly had a sniff of Premier League football but he did have a month ;long loan at West Ham which was quite succesful, in fact, one Hammer blogger declared that Almunia was a way better goalkeeper than Rob Green and was unhappy at his return. So maybe a month is not enough to judge a player, but even the Stats I posted above proved that Almunia is probably, statistically, the second best goal keeper we have. He did do well after Szczesny was injured in the Nou Camp last season, he made so many great saves that for a few days, it felt wrong to say anything bad about Almunia. His downfall, I’m afraid, is his inability to be consistent and making vital mistakes. To me, as I said before, it is one of the most important qualities in a goalkeeper. If a goalkeeper makes “vital” mistakes that cost the team points and games, he is not worth having because it also can be a pointer at his failure to deal with pressure.
- Making “vital” mistakes – For a keeper of his age, you would want to think he would have polished this out already but part of the reason he is not the Arsenal no.1 is because he keeps making errors that cost us games.
- Being a positive keeper – the years spent at Arsenal have helped him to becoming an attack-minded goalkeeper, unlike other goalkeepers that will hug the ball for 3 minutes after catching it, Almunia is always quickly looking forward to throw the ball to a team-mate for a counter attack.
Almunia is far from neither a devil or a saint, he is somewhere in between. The problem is, playing at Arsenal, you have to be an exceptional player otherwise you are offloaded. His age does not help him because, unlike the other 3 goalkeepers, there is not much room nor time for improvement for Almunia.
Current Ability/Potential Ability; *****/*****