Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Fond Goodbye to our No. 2, Lukasz

The transfer season has begun and Arsenal has lost another star. No wait, it's our FA Cup, Semi-final hero, Lukasz Fabianski. As reported earlier today, Fabianski has entered into a pre-contract agreement with Swansea, and will join them when his Arsenal contract expires in June. 

A little shortsightedness might prompt you to state that our best keeper is leaving, his penalty shootout heroics against Wigan are what got us into the FA Cup finals in the first place. And he's been the keeper for all the matches which lead to our first trophy in 9 years. But I suppose a little more perspective is required. Lukasz Fabianski has made 78 Arsenal appearances in seven seasons at Arsenal. That's quite low, even without considering the fact that he was competing with Almunia. For the longest time he was the talented, but error prone second in command to Almunia (who can forget this howler), receiving the unfortunate nickname of Flappyanski. 

He's always been a talented keeper, and has made some fine saves, but for the longest time he was simply too error prone and too inconsistent to ever be a No. 1 keeper for a club like Arsenal. A brilliant save, followed by a howler was the order of the day. A lot of times, it simply seemed that the pressure got to him. That day in 2010, when we lost 1-0 to Manchester United, a young fellow pole, Wojciech Szczesny made his Premier League debut on account of Fabianski and Almunia being injured. His heroics continued to earn him a spot in the first team, culminating in him being the first choice keeper, and Fabianski being consigned to being his backup. 

Our collective opinion of Fabianski began to change when Wenger decided he had enough of Szczesny's poor form, and dumped him in the away match against eventual Champions League winners, Bayern Munich. We all know what happened next. A clean sheet against one of the best strike forces in Europe, eventual treble winners, and it seemed as if Fabianski was once again the club No. 1. Unfortunately for him, he got injured, Szczesny returned with a vengeance, accumulating clean sheet after clean sheet, and is the undisputed No. 1 at the club. 

Of course, this season Fabianski has played every FA Cup match, including the final, made a couple of great saves along the way, and possibly his most memorable night came in the form of a penalty shootout against Wigan in the semis. He was man of the match in that game for me, and his two penalty saves secured a berth to the final. Wenger took the more emotional decision to start Fabianski in the finals, and while the entire team deserves the blame for a terrible start, it can be argued that Fabianski didn't have world's greatest 9 minutes. Hadn't we staged a blazing comeback, the critical brickbats that Fabianski might have received are impossible to fathom. 

At the end of the day, Fabianski is a fairly decent goalkeeper, a nice chap, and a thorough professional. Never one to mourn, or talk about playing time, he's always put his head down, worked hard, and this season done quite a stellar job most of the times when called upon. While Szczesny is our undisputed No. 1, Fabianski was a quality backup, and after several years he's really grown this season. That being said, Szczesny is one of the best keepers in the league and his performances this season have been criminally underrated (mostly on account of those traumatising multi-goal away losses). Fabianski would never be a permanent No.1 at Arsenal, and fairplay to him for leaving in search of first team opportunities. I'd of course prefer that he had moved to a different country, but it's also nice knowing that despite all the criticism about Arsenal keepers, we've provided the Premier League with two decent keepers in the form of Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski. 

All this of course means that we need a new backup keeper. Whether we look outside (John Ruddy has been mentioned) or inwards at a younger player like Martinez is a decision which the manager has to take. The slightly alarming aspect of this is that we now need a keeper and a right back since Sagna has announced that he's leaving, essentially replacing before we can actually strengthen. It's going to be a long transfer season. 

Anyway, good luck to Lukasz Fabianski, our semi-final hero.