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The admission came in February from Arsene Wenger that he does not have a consistent number 1 in his Arsenal goal. The manager would claim that Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina were in competition for the Gunners’ goalkeeping spot but he cannot deny a shift in favour has occurred as Ospina has started all Premier League games since the start of January while Szczesny, demoted to the bench after a miserable afternoon at Southampton on New Year’s Day, has had to make do with appearances in the FA Cup.
Ospina was signed last summer for £3 million from Nice after enjoying an impressive World Cup with Colombia out in Brazil, but it was an acquisition designed to provide healthy back-up to Szczesny who had recovered from a series of shaky moments in the infant stages of his Arsenal career to win last season’s Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets, with 16.
But mistakes have again creeped into the Pole’s game to hinder progress and the disastrous showing in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton was exacerbated by the £20,000 fine he received for being caught smoking in the changing-room showers.
Now the 24 year old is rumoured to be willing to find a way out of the Emirates with Roma keeping tabs on his availability, but it seems incredibly harsh of Wenger to jettison the ‘keeper who last year showed enough promise to be Arsenal’s long-term choice as they look to once again challenge for the Premier League title. It is such an aspiration that has Wenger reportedly looking at an established goalkeeper to replace the outgoing Szczesny which in itself undermines Arsenal’s current goalkeeping situation.
Ospina has undoubtedly impressed since coming in, keeping 7 clean sheets in the 13 games he has played since playing in the FA Cup third round game with Hull in early January, conceding just 6 goals in that period. However concerns remain over his suitability to the pressure of a club of Arsenal’s stature.
Lukasz Fabianski for instance never really shook off the “flappy-handski” moniker he picked up for the mistakes that caused question marks to remain over him for the duration of his Arsenal career. He has since benefited from a new lease of life at Swansea City after leaving on a free transfer last summer and the luxury of revisionism has said that he was the wrong Polish goalkeeper to depart north London last summer.
Wenger deserves credit for trying to produce and acclimatise a young goalkeeper to his Arsenal side, something he also tried with Sunderland’s Vito Mannone, but with the Gunners locked in strong domestic competition as well as looking to finally break their current glass ceiling of the second-round of the Champions League, he will be aware they are choppy waters for a goalkeeper to adapt to during the infancy of his career. They are now seemingly about to do for Szczesny just like Mannone and Fabianski before him.
The French coach will perhaps try to do such a thing again with England’s under-19 goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, the 18 year old of Newcastle United who is rated at £1 million, but he is likely to arrive, should he be coaxed away from the north east, alongside an experienced, reliable number one in the mould of Petr Cech. The Czech Republic stopper achieved as many clean sheets as Szczesny last season and with news abound that time is about to be called on his long-serving but illustrious Chelsea career, the clamour is for Wenger to take the 32 year old to the Emirates for what would be a fee of around £10 million.
That is a result of the question marks that still hang over Ospina despite his impressive form and statistics he has produced since usurping his Polish rival 3 months ago. His saves per goal ratio of 3.67 is in excess of his Premier League goalkeeping rivals albeit having played fewer games and there is a feeling that the Colombian is not as commanding or trust-inspiring as Thibaut Courtois, David De Gea or even Hugo Lloris, who have been so consistently brilliant in goal for Arsenal’s respective rivals this term.
Often suspect when asked to command his box or in coming for high-balls, subject to criticism for his role in Arsenal’s Champions League defeat to Monaco, the jury is still out on the 26 year old Ospina and Wenger will surely know by now that he must find a goalkeeper that can’t be open to any questioning or doubt if this talented Arsenal side are to reach their potential and challenge at the top.
Plenty of work has been done by Wenger on a defence that has been bolstered by the arrivals of Gabriel Paulista, Mathieu Debuchy and Callum Chambers for significant money over the past 8 months or so, while young Hector Bellerin has progressed into an accomplished right-back and Francis Coquelin has emerged provide a solid defensive midfield screen. But Wenger must address the problem that lies behind them if he is to form a successful side.
A definitive and dependable number one goalkeeper has to be found and if it isn’t to be Cech, the search has to go on, Arsenal can no longer leave any room for ambiguity between the sticks.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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