Previous teams: Legia Warsaw, Brentford (loan)
Bio: “I really believe in him that he will one day be Arsenal’s No 1. He has all the qualities you want from a goalkeeper.” – Arsene Wenger
The manager’s early words said so much about the potential of Polish ‘keeper Wojcech Szczesny, who joined Arsenal as a youth recruit from Legia Warsaw in 2006. His career hit a major obstacle early on after losing his balance during weight training and fracturing both his arms which saw him out of action for six months. But his recovery from that setback saw him take a path which looks to be taking him towards goalkeeping stardom.
His first spell as a first-team player came on loan at Brentford in 2009 – originally as a stop-gap on a one month contract – but the deal was continually extended until it became a full-season arrangement, establishing himself as first choice at the League One club. Then manager Andy Scott remarked Szczesny was good enough to play in the Championship, “or even the Premiership” at the tender age of 19.
Even at that stage of his career, the young Pole demonstrated a confidence and cocksure belief in himself that his senior team-mates did not seem to possess. His technique in cutting out angles and spreading his body in one-on-ones is exemplary, as well as his ability to spring off the ground after making a save. His emergence in the side has also negated an old Arsenal weakness of dealing with crosses, where he uses all 1.96 metres of his frame to pluck aerial balls out of the air.
After his loan spell at Brentford, Szczesny returned to Arsenal in the 2010/11 season and eventually established himself as the club’s number one stopper. With Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski both injured ahead of a crucial match against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Szczesny stepped up to produce a commanding display under immense pressure, out-witting Wayne Rooney to save a penalty in a 1-0 loss. The darkest moment of that season was still to come as Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny combined in a defensive howler that cost Arsenal the League Cup against Birmingham. But putting that awful error aside, it proved to be a successful season for the Pole.
His first full season as first-choice started horrendously in 2011/12, which saw Arsenal get off to its worst league start in years, culminating in the nadir of the 8-2 loss at Old Trafford. From then on, the rest of the season was a rescue mission, ultimately seeing the club pip Tottenham Hotspur for third place at the death.
While some errors have crept into his game of late, including some poor distribution and a streak of overconfidence leading to concentration lapses, Szczesny has earned the fans’ trust and confidence in his possession and has already struck a rapport with the Emirates Stadium crowd.