Following the loss of form and, subsequently, the departure of Jens Lehmann during his maiden spell at the club, the Arsenal goalkeeping position became something of a hot topic, with neither Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski appearing viable candidates to assume the role of first choice in the direct aftermath of his departure.
Wojciech Szczesny eventually provided the answer to that conundrum, with the Polish shot-stopper, who joined the club as a 16 year old following a successful trial in 2006, having to patiently bide his time before, off the back of a hugely-fruitful loan spell at Brentford during the 2009/10 season, he established himself as Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper last campaign and has subsequently made over 40 appearances for the club at senior level.
Prior to his breakthrough, there were growing fears that Szczesny would leave the club owing to a lack of opportunities, but an injury sustained by Fabianski during the warm-up before a game against Manchester City in January presented his compatriot with a chance and it is one that, the odd mistake aside, he has taken with aplomb.
Now, another situation arises in that the club currently possess two highly-promising young goalkeepers in Damian Martinez and Reice Charles-Cook but, given Szczesny’s presence, it appears as if it will be, at this stage at least, difficult for them to make the breakthrough in the long term.
Martinez has made a substantial impression since his move to the club was confirmed early last season. The imposing Argentinian impressed during both FA Youth Cup fixtures last season and has turned out several times for Neil Banfield’s Reserve team this time around. Martinez was rewarded for his progress with a place on the bench for the Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury in September and is likely to go out on loan later this campaign to bolster his experience of the English game.
Charles-Cook, meanwhile, is only a second-year scholar and is yet to sign his first professional contract at the club, but his reflexes and command of his penalty area have drawn rave reviews. He was particularly impressive for the Reserves during pre-season, and again for the under-18s against Chelsea at Emirates Stadium recently, and will keep goal in the Youth Cup this term.
In terms of their accession to the top, Szczesny is not their only obstacle, but the others certainly appear more passable. Speculation has already begun to generate about whether Fabianski, for all the promise he displayed in the first half of last season, may have to leave in January for regular football, whilst Vito Mannone, despite his stint in the first-team a couple of seasons ago, when he played eight games without defeat, still possesses a tendency for punching the ball in dangerous situations and making avoidable errors.
Manuel Almunia, back from West Ham, will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, whilst young James Shea has not received much game time during his loan spell at Dagenham & Redbridge. Sean McDermott, the Irish youth international, has improved following his shaky start to life in England, but Charles-Cook, despite being the younger of the two, appears the better prospect.
It may require a touch of fortune, such as the one that benefitted Szczesny, if either Martinez or Charles-Cook are to succeed at the club in the long term, but, such is their rate of progression that it could be the case that, in a few years, Arsenal could have gone from having no outstanding candidates for the number one shirt, to having three.