Interview – Wojciech Szczesny

Arsenal’s Polish goalkeeper feels his defenders have taken far too much flak for their performances this season but accepts the side have not played to their potential.

(Getty)

(Getty)

But then the topic of how important it is for a goalkeeper to organise his defence came up.

“It’s a massive part,” says Szczesny, whose big personality and instinct to shout and point on the pitch is one of his strengths. “I’d imagine it’s the most important part of goalkeeping.” Pause. Sorry Wojciech, time for the awkward question. “But sometimes,” I try to suggest casually, “it looks like the organisation is not quite right?”

Szczesny is a bright spark in both senses of the phrase. He is a smart thinker and also has a lively and cheerful way about him. But this question narks him. “I don’t agree,” he says. “Over a long time I’ve honestly had enough of people saying Arsenal’s defence is not good enough. People judge defence on the back of goals conceded but you have to have a look at the defending in general. If my back four are completely exposed against Chelsea – most of the time in the first half there it was four of my defenders against six Chelsea players – they were disadvantaged all the time. You have to look at the defending of the whole team, the shape of the whole team. People blame the Arsenal defenders way too much over the past couple of seasons.

Our fans want to see us attack, scoring goals, and then sometimes it doesn’t work and people say: look at the defence. It is about balance.”

That balance is a tough one to address. There are only two ways of trying to improve it; on the training ground, or in the transfer market. Szczesny’s views on both are thought-provoking.

There is, according to the 22-year-old goalkeeper, a noticeable difference between what Arsenal produce in training and on matchdays. Sometimes, on the journey between the secluded lawns of London Colney and the white line on to a Premier League pitch, some spark fizzles away. “The players often show much more qualities in training than we do in games,” he says. “Whether it’s down to what the opposition does, or us playing with the handbrake on as the boss likes to call it, it’s hard to say. Sometimes I look at our training sessions and think this team is as good as any in Europe. And sometimes it just doesn’t work out for us in the game.”

Another painful lesson he had to absorb came when Arsenal lost the 2011 Carling Cup final to Birmingham. He brings it up himself, a reference to how much desire there is to win a trophy, and the deep impact of that failure. “That was when me and Laurent [Koscielny] had that little mix-up,” he explains. “From that moment on the team collapsed. It was quite unbelievable to see. I did feel responsible for it in a way because it was my fault that led to that goal. It was quite painful.”

His keenness to achieve success is palpable. The top four is, he reckons, the least of Arsenal’s requirements. Despite their inconsistencies, Szczesny is as confident as ever that will be accomplished. Two home games are coming up, against Liverpool on Wednesday night and Stoke on Saturday, which are vital to that aim. He happily retells the story of being written off last season: “I read an article saying we were never going to finish above Tottenham and come the end of the season I see them playing Europa League again.”

Wenger’s willingness to build up young players rather than always buying ready-made is contentious and Szczesny accepts that. “You understand the fans’ frustrations when you see other clubs spend massive money on exciting players, but I’ve benefited from the club’s policy so I support it. I came to the club at 16 and came through the ranks. So in my opinion it’s quite clear. Giving young players the chance to prove themselves at the club they were brought up, at the club they love, is the right way to go. In terms of bringing young talent through, there is no one else who can compete with us. Some clubs can’t produce top-class talent so they have to spend big money. It’s a very long debate.”

Szczesny’s love for his club is plain and uncomplicated. One of the main reasons he wants to win something is to repay those who have helped him along the way. He reels off a list of people who have looked after him since he arrived from Warsaw in 2006. It’s not far off an Oscars speech, encompassing everyone from Bobby Arbor, the scout who found him and watched out for him when he did not speak much English, to Liam Brady, David Court and Steve Bould who oversaw his progress in the youth development, to his landlady Bobbie, Shirley the headmistress who advised him on education, Rob the chef …

“I came here as a 16-year-old boy and everything I know right now, I know from this club and the people who took care of me when I was young. Some of them have had the most influence – of course you have your parents and relatives, but people I have met here have given me so much. It’s everyone. I love this place. I feel I have something I want to give back to them. It gives me a lot of desire to do well.”

Read the entire interview by Amy Lawrence at the Guardian website.

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