Wojciech Tomasz Szczęsny (while I’m copying and pasting I might as well get the full name) was 16 when he joined Arsenal.
Wojciech Tomasz Szczęsny was a Gooner, complete with bizarro Polish-cockney accent, a banterous relationship with Tottenham Hotspur, and a strong desire to be the club’s #1 for the rest of his career.
His life in the first team started well. Granted, there have been harder tasks than usurping Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, but in 2011 Szczęsny did just that to become Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper aged just 21. He retained the position for the next three and a half seasons, even winning the Premier League Golden Glove award for his 16 clean sheets in 2013-14.
For whatever reason, in 2014-15 things deteriorated. Szczęsny’s concentration was elsewhere and his performances dipped. After one particularly bad game in which he made multiple errors, he was caught smoking a cigarette in the team showers and fined. By the end of the season, David Ospina was Arsene Wenger’s first choice, and that summer Petr Cech became available. Szczęsny was loaned to Roma.
Arsenal’s actions that summer made sense. Cech was, ostensibly, a better, more reliable goalkeeper than either of the club’s options and the squad needed some more senior leadership and winning experience. Ospina was a relatively new signing and happy to play backup, while Szczęsny – still only 25 – needed a change of scenery and to rebuild his confidence. Wenger said the following:
“I believe he will have a future at Arsenal. I rate him highly. I put him in the first team at the age of 20 and he already has huge experience.”
Szczęsny’s first season at Roma was a mixed bag, but he showed enough progress for the Italian club – ever on the lookout for a bargain – to extend his loan for a second year with the option to buy. His second season was excellent. He became a key and settled figure in the Roma lineup, finishing the season with the most clean sheets in Serie A (14).
It was obvious to all who watched Szczęsny that he’d developed significantly. Even the man himself acknowledged that his stint at Roma had been pivotal:
“The biggest thing I have taken away from these two years at Roma is the fact I grew as a goalkeeper. It’s just raising your levels, your standards. I absorbed a bigger knowledge of football, the tactical side of the game. You don’t see me with that rush of blood that I used to have as a younger keeper.”
What was also obvious by the end of the 2016/17 season was that Petr Cech was not as good as Arsenal had expected. The veteran keeper wasn’t as quick, agile or commanding as he had been during his time at Chelsea. He also seemed to have developed a strong aversion to saving long-range shots. Many had justifiably thought that Cech would be the solution to the club’s goalkeeping problems, but quite simply, he wasn’t (and still isn’t) up to the task. Arsenal had purchased an old and old-school goalkeeper just as younger keepers were transitioning to a more dynamic, better-with-their-feet style of play.
That summer, Arsenal had options. Szczesny had a year left on his contract. They could renew it and bring him back as #1. Bring him back and make him fight it out with Cech. They could sell Cech, or sell Ospina. Or, of course, they could sell Szczęsny and continue with the very clearly inadequate status quo.
Roma had the option to buy, but had purchased the highly rated Alisson Becker from Internacionale the season before, and after a year of bedding in they felt he was ready to take over (my word, weren’t they right?).
Enter Juventus. Having watched Szczęsny’s progress in Serie A for two years and with Buffon announcing his impending retirement, the club hierarchy identified the Polish keeper as their long-term #1. Their plan: Szczęsny would spend a year playing understudy to one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers before take over the position.
That a club with the stature, expectations and standards of Juventus were willing to replace their greatest ever goalkeeper with Wojciech Szczęsny should have been the subtlest of clues to Arsenal that they shouldn’t sell. When their options were a visibly declining Cech and a too-short-to-ever-be-good-enough Ospina, and one of Europe’s leading clubs wanted their man, Arsenal perhaps should have realized what they had. Instead, the Pole was sold to Turin for a pitiful 12m Euros.
Last season, he made 21 appearances for Juventus and kept 14 clean sheets, while winning a domestic double. Now, aged 28, he is entering his prime and about to become the first choice goalkeeper for European giant. He will likely win multiple titles, and consistently fight in the latter stages of the Champions League. Arsenal still have Cech and Ospina.
There is consensus amongst Gunners’ fans that the team need a new goalkeeper this summer. Whether the club agree remains to be seen, as Petr Cech has been handed the #1 jersey for the upcoming season. If, however, Emery, Mislintat and Sanllehi do conclude that a new keeper is necessary, a good one is likely to cost a damn sight more than 12m Euros.
Why on earth did Arsenal sell Wojciech Szczęsny?