With Jens Lehmann set to leave the Club in the summer, it could be the chance for the young Arsenal ‘keepers to shine. Read on for an in-depth look at the Arsenal goalscoring situation.
Well, this season the competition to be Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper has been as fierce as ever. Jens Lehmann was dropped after a couple of early-season howlers and was swiftly replaced by Manuel Almunia, who has been in terrific form this season. Summer acquisition Lukasz Fabianski also impressed in the early rounds of the Carling Cup, although he looked out of his depth against Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Lehmann should leave in the summer and many would expect Arséne Wenger to scour the transfer market for a possible replacement. But with Almunia doing well for now, then would Wenger have enough faith in Vito Mannone to promote him to the first-team squad?
Mannone arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2005, and after a season of settling in made the breakthrough to the reserves. He started last season on loan at Barnsley, where he had a horrendous time conceding simple goals and was made to look like a fool by some of the opposition players. However, Vito returned to Arsenal and swiftly made the position as the number one Reserve ‘keeper his own. He has reached new heights this season, and even featured on the bench in the Carling Cup. He is comfortable from long range efforts but sometimes he spills simple shots that can create opportunities for the opponents. Wenger certainly likes him though and Vito is agile and also has good kicking skills. Next season Arsenal will have to make a decision on him, whether to send him out on loan, or to promote him to the first team squad.
Following in Vito’s footsteps is the young Polish goalie Wojciech Szczesny. Wojciech signed a professional deal last summer and although his first-season was mainly spent on the bench it was important for him to get to know his new team-mates. This year he has gone from strength to strength. He is now the regular ‘keeper for the u-18s and has also made two substitute appearances for the Reserves. His tall presence makes him difficult to beat from distance, although his kicking ability needs some working on. Another problem area for Wojciech is communication. Hailing from Poland, he is not yet fully fluent in English and sometimes finds it difficult to issue instructions to his team-mates. However, he is a fantastic shot stopper, and made a string of fantastic saves against Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup fourth round defeat at Anfield. He will be too old to feature in the u-18s next season and could stake a claim to be Reserves keeper if Vito goes out on loan or is promoted to the first-team squad.
Young Irish ‘keeper James Shea has made the breakthrough to the u-18s and signed scholarship forms early in the season. Despite a shaky start, where he was easily beaten on a couple of occasions, James has turned out regularly for the u-16s this season and his performances are starting to pick up. He has trained with the first-team on several occasions and looks set to be a regular starter for the u-18s next season.
Earlier this week, we brought to your attention the progress of Charlie Mann, the young ‘keeper who has been likened to Kasper Schemichel. He still has a long way to go but should be able to hold down the position of u-16 ‘keeper next season and is already taller than James Shea which gives him an advantage. As I have said previously, he may even get a couple of games in the u-18s next season.
So, 2008 is a massive year for Arsenal goalkeepers. All of them have their own specific goals to achieve and the fact of the matter is, whoever comes through the next seven months or so the strongest, will have a great chance of cementing their place in the Arsenal first-team in the next few years.