After a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton in our first home-win of the season, you’d think I’d be a bit of a spoil sport for complaining about the one goal we did let in.
But after Wojcech Szczesny’s howler to allow the Saints a scant consolation goal, I’m still feeling fairly ticked off that it happened at all. Now, for the rest of recorded history, Arsenal’s collective defensive effort will have a black mark on it because of one moment of slack concentration.
I remember feeling similar angst over conceding a consolation goal in the 2009/10 season when Arsenal, comfortably leading 4-0 away to Wolves, succumbed in injury time to a Jody Craddock goal from a corner.
The game was in the bag, the win was never in doubt. It was a great performance by the Fabregas-led side and complaining about a meaningless goal in added time seemed like pulling at straws at the time.
Yet it stuck in the craw. With the win secured, the clean-sheet became the next “primary objective”. It didn’t happen. We failed to show a resolute streak at the back and put a blemish on an otherwise excellent performance.
Today, my feelings on Szczesny’s slip-up are a little different. Two years ago, those frustrations came from wanting to prove the doubters wrong about our porous defence. Today, I have so much more confidence in this team, coached to the sweaty limit by Steve Bould, of smarter defending that Szczesny’s blunder brings out a different anger.
As far as the goalkeeping world is concerned, Szczesny is a bright star in the making. At 23, he’s a toddler as far as development trajectories are concerned, but is already established as Arsenal’s preferred choice between the sticks.
He has gobby confidence and bravado, which is a mightily refreshing change from the nerves and self-doubt we had with Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. But that confidence comes with the danger of complacency in one’s abilities.
Szczesny’s distribution kicking remains a big, big problem with his game. Under pressure, his mistakes can provide no outlet to convert defence into attack, and even when seemingly in control, a blunder can present a chance to the opposition out of nothing.
I have no doubt the coach and Wenger laid into him for that mistake against Southampton, even if it cost us absolutely nothing. I really hope this was the case. We need to feed this embryonic attitude the team has over the importance of defence.
All across the back four, we have positive developments. Thomas Vermaelen has been conspicuous by his absence in kamikaze runs forward, staying back almost throughout the match other than for corners and free kicks, or when we’re already five goals to the good.
Kieran Gibbs is doing his absolute utmost to keep Andre Santos on the bench, while Carl Jenkinson’s reputation has soared since deputising for the injured Bacary Sagna, who will surely be aware of the fact his place will have to be earned week-in, week-out when he returns.
Meanwhile, Per Mertesacker continues to be the sage in defence alongside his captain, knowing that the excellent Laurent Koscielny, as well as Johan Djourou, are waiting in the wings for a chance to impress.
With Vito Mannone showing off his calm, Mafioso henchman abilities against Stoke and Liverpool, it’s now up to Szczesny to recognise the weaknesses in his game, and monopolise his place in the side through hard work and grit, rather than reputation.