Now that it's summer, it's time to go around the (metaphorical) room and ask the Short Fuse staff to review Arsenal's season. Our season review will happen, uh, shortly? Maybe? We haven't actually plotted that out yet. For now, we'll start giving out our reviews to the playing staff, reviews which I am sure said staff are on pins and needles awaiting, like anxious school kids at the end of the year waiting for the bell to ring on the last day of class.
To continue that theme, in addition to the many dozens of words we'll give each player, we're also giving a letter grade; we're using a straight A-F scale, no pluses or minuses or anything like that. There will be no grading on a curve, there will be no extra credit. EYES ON YOUR OWN PAPER. And, as he did last year, Thomas will also provide a GIF of his given grade. The rest of us aren't that creative.
Anyway! We figured we'd start at the back and work our way forward, so here we go - Wojciech Szczesny, you're up!
Wojciech Szczesny had a strange year. You hear over and over again that he's only 23, and that he's young for a first-choice goalkeeper, and that's all true. But he still makes mistakes that I feel like he shouldn't, and with a couple of years as the (mostly) unquestioned starting goalkeeper, you would think that would start to get worked out of his game. But instead he got dropped for his backup, and only worked his way back into the team after Lukasz Fabianski got injured. He played much better after he returned (though part of that may be down to better defending from the team as a whole), and individual parts of his game are developing. His once-awful distribution is now only mediocre, and his decision-making has improved a lot since I first saw him play. These improvements leave me with hope that he'll continue growing into the job, and while he had an up-and-down season, I'm still confident that he is the long-term answer at goalkeeper. But he needs to keep working to close the gaps in his game.
Wojciech Szczesny started as Arsenal's number 1 keeper and ended as the number 1 keeper, but what happened in between tells much more of the story. After getting hurt in training after the first match of the season, Szczesny was absent until November, returning for the annual 5-2 beating of Tottenham. He then played every game until March, before being dropped for Lukasz Fabianski because he was "mentally fatigued". While Arsene Wenger was diplomatic, I won't be: Szczesny was very poor. He was consistently getting beat by long-shots from outside the area, and not particularly good, Gareth Bale late winner type shots: think back to the weak equaliser Andres Weimann hit for Aston Villa in March. Szczesny was dropped, but then came back after Fabianski got kicked by Grant Holt, who was obviously carrying out the EDL's newest policy. Szczesny was more than fine at the end of the season, making fantastic saves against QPR and Wigan in the final weeks of the season. Having played 106 times for Arsenal, it's easy to forget Szczesny is 23. He needs competition--being dropped made him refocus, but he's still my first choice keeper of the future.
The Polish international left little to be desired for large swaths of the season, whether it be his indecisiveness on corners or his failure to gel, communicate and work effectively with his defensive backs. It's no coincidence the team started to play at its best when he and another decisive figure to many fans this season, Thomas Vermaelen, were benched for the Bayern Munich away match. He's capable of making highlight-worthy saves, and did on a number of occasions after reclaiming his spot after Lukasz Fabianski's injury in the tail-end of the season (the van Persie save at the Emirates; denying Loic Remy in a tight match at QPR), but his propensity for the head scratching gaffes (the FA Cup versus Blackburn, for instance) ultimately makes his season a let-down after heading into this campaign on the back of what appeared to be a great season last year.
I will fully admit to being a little embarrassed (although nothing, I'm sure, compared to what he and his mom felt) when Wojciech Szczesny was sent off last summer in the opening match of Euro 2012. I didn't know at the time that it would sort of prefigure a lot of his campaign this year for Arsenal. Of course, Arsenal as a whole weren't really on their game for much of the first half of the season, and Szczesny missed a lot of time due to injury in the first two months. His form sort of slowly slid off like Wile E. Coyote hitting the side of a cliff before Wenger pulled the plug in March, and I wouldn't have been surprised to see the manager ride the hot hand in Fabianski until season's end, only this is Arsenal, so Fabianski got dinged up, and Szczesny was back. The enduring image from the end of the year for me will remain Szczesny Schmeichel-ing Robin van Persie's point blank effort against United and temporarily restoring sanity to my heart.
If one had to plot out the course of Szcz's season, that plot would look a lot like a seismograph recording of an earthquake - a sharp series of ups and downs, followed by a period of stability. After being injured for the first part of the season, Szcz came back in November and was in goal the rest of the winter, until Wenger tired of the stupid mistakes and mental lapses and put in Fabianski. Fab picked up an injury, Szcz came back, and for the rest of the season he was a much improved, but still not perfect, keeper. Whether that was down to the humbling experience of being dropped, or just his natural progression from nervous kid to decently confident first choice, Szcz finished the season much better than he started it. Arsenal still need a solid second choice keeper, but to me that's a low priority for the off season; if Szcz puts in the work and continues his latter-half-of-2013-season form, his seismograph will look less like something from the Cascadia Subduction Zone and more like something from the middle of Nebraska next year.