Who is Arsenal's No1? Why Lukasz Fabianski deserves this chance
PUBLISHED: 12:42 21 March 2013 | UPDATED: 12:42 21 March 2013
Wojciech Szczesny's woe is joy for Arsenal's other Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who probably feels he should have been No1 all along
Lukasz Fabianski could have been forgiven for pinching himself in the Allianz Arena last week, and not just because Arsenal were defying the odds to defeat Bayern Munich on their own turf.
Even more of a surprise than the 2-0 scoreline was the reappearance of Fabianski in the Gunners goal, 13 months after his last first-team start for the club.
On Saturday, Fabianski started his first Premier League game for over two years – since January 5, 2011 – and again kept a clean sheet as Arsenal won 2-0 at Swansea.
“He has changed a lot, there has been a complete mental transformation in Lukasz’s attitude,” said Arsene Wenger ahead of the trip to South Wales. “He is more vocal, has more authority and mentally he absorbs the pressure of the game much better.
“He has a huge talent, which we know all about. Sometimes to go out of the game for a while helps people to mature and think about their own game. If they really want to become a better player, they think: ‘how can I become better’.
“I think it is a combination of both [working with him and his own maturity] but I would give him 90 per cent of the credit. He works on all the aspects of his game.”
Wenger made the call to drop Wojciech Szczesny ahead of the trip to Munich, and it was both surprising and controversial. But Szczesny has been conceding soft goals for far too long, and something had to be done. Wenger was swift and unusually brutal. Szczesny is on the bench and, for the time being at least, Fabianski appears to be the No1.
Fabianski would probably like to point out that it could and perhaps should have always been this way.
The elder of the two Polish goalkeepers by exactly five years (they share the same birthday, April 18) Fabianski was already a Poland international when Szczesny was joining Arsenal from Legia Warsaw as a fresh-faced 16-year-old back in 2006.
Fabianski was also No1 at Legia, where he had been voted as the best keeper in the Polish top flight for two successive seasons. When Wenger signed him as a 22-year-old in the summer of 2007, a future at the very top of the game seemed assured.
It has not quite panned out that way, but the football fates have been cruel to Fabianski over the past six years. In his first season he played mainly just Carling Cup games, the last of which was the 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Spurs at White Hart Lane.
The following season he started to challenge Manuel Almunia for the No1 berth but injuries were around the corner. He had one of the games of his life at Anfield, but still conceded four goals in that unforgettable 4-4 draw in April 2009.
He was soon back on the bench behind Almunia again, and then in February 2010 came a game that almost finished Fabianski’s Arsenal career, when he made two awful errors to present Porto with a 2-1 Champions League win in a last-16 first leg tie.
Arsenal won the second leg 5-0 but there was no such comeback for Fabianski. One tabloid labelled him as ‘Flappyhandski’ and the unfortunate nickname stuck.
But at the start of the 2010-11 season Almunia was out of favour and Fabianski was back in the side and playing well when he aggravated a shoulder injury warming up with Szczesny at the Emirates in January 2011.
Fabianski actually went on to play that night, and kept a clean sheet in a goalless draw with Manchester City, but the injury he had sustained required surgery, ruling him out for the rest of the season.
By then Szczesny had come into the side and proved enormously popular both on and off the pitch, despite his part in the farcical last-minute Obafemi Martins goal that cost the Gunners the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City.
Ever since Fabianski has been watching, and waiting, as his younger rival established himself and also became Poland’s regular keeper.
But life for goalkeepers is all about timing. Had Vito Mannone been fit, he may well have got the nod to replace Szczesny, as he did at the start of the season when the Italian played 13 games and looked like he might stake a claim to be No1.
But Mannone was injured and Fabianski stepped up instead. He will see that as karma for the last two years, but will also be painfully aware of football’s unforgiving nature, especially for goalkeepers. Much like Arsenal, Fabianski has nine games to battle for his future.
Follow Paul Chronnell on Twitter @GazetteGooner