Szczesny: I'm a bit bonkers but I'm also confident
Arsenal's young goalkeeper is outspoken but he's made his most telling statements of late on the pitch
Friday 25 February 2011
His two predecessors as Arsenal goalkeeper came and went without ever winning a cup final, but Wojciech Szczesny has had to wait until just his 16th game as Arsène Wenger's first choice to play at Wembley in the Carling Cup final.
By his own admission, Szczesny is a "little bit bonkers" and by the standards of the conservative English footballer he is outspoken. Within minutes of Ashley Cole missing his penalty in the FA Cup fourth-round shoot-out at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, Szczesny had tweeted a joke about the inaccuracy of the spot-kick. That old pros' rule about not revelling in the failings of one other clearly does not apply.
This is the young man, 6ft 5in and just 20, upon whom so much of Arsenal's hopes rest this season, starting with Sunday's game. Are his team-mates right about him being an unusual character? "If that's what they say, then you have to trust them," he said. "I don't really want to talk about my own attitude. Of course, all the top goalkeepers in the past were a little bit bonkers. So, yes, I do believe that I have a piece of that as well.
"I'm very confident. I keep my feet on the ground. Nothing really fazes me. I don't think it's hard. I was born this way. I believe in my own abilities. That's why I'm confident whenever I go out on the pitch. Whether it's Stoke and we have to face a lot of crosses or Barcelona with the best strikers in the world, I'm confident in my abilities."
The son of a Poland international goalkeeper, Maciej, who once punched Roberto Mancini in the face during a European Cup Winners' Cup game, Szczesny was making the case for being Arsenal's No 1 long before he was given the job. His subsequent performances have demonstrated that he is the man for the job.
The win over Stoke City on Wednesday night was another hurdle cleared in the development of a young goalkeeper before Sunday's date with Birmingham City. Szczesny will hope to be in the first Arsenal side to win a final since Jens Lehmann saved Paul Scholes' penalty, the second in the FA Cup final penalty shoot-out, against Manchester United in 2005.
"I was at Wembley when we played against Chelsea in the semi-final [in 2009] and lost 2-1. I love the atmosphere. I love the surroundings. I'm looking forward to playing there. It's a massive occasion but I believe I'm going to enjoy it. As a young kid it's your dream to play at stadiums like that, so when you actually do get to play there you have to enjoy it."
His big break was his first Premier League start, against United at Old Trafford on 13 December, when he was picked ahead of Lukasz Fabianski, who is now out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, and Manuel Almunia. Not bad for a player who was on loan at Brentford last season and would surely have been discouraged from signing the new contract he eventually agreed in November had Arsenal been successful in signing Mark Schwarzer from Fulham last summer.
He says the comparisons made with Peter Schmeichel are "humbling" although that was the goalkeeper he looked up to as a youngster training with Legia Warsaw before Arsenal signed him at the age of 17.
His other role model was his father. Maciej will be at Wembley on Sunday as well as his grandfather, Kazimierz, who he says is "in his 70s" and is traveling outside Poland for the first time in his life to watch his grandson.
"I'm very pleased he's coming. He's watched me a few times for the national team. It's an extra incentive for me to do well," he says.
As for that successful League debut, he says: "I was ready for it. It's down to the manager to make the decisions. Thankfully I took my chances well and we have a chance to play at Wembley now. I didn't expect it to happen this quickly but I'm delighted with it.
"It's hard to talk about being favourites. It's the only chance they will get to win a trophy this season so they will be up for it. It's difficult to say who the favourite is but we believe we can beat them and win the trophy. Winning would give us a massive boost. If we do win the trophy we will have even more desire to push on from there and win all the trophies remaining."
That includes the Premier League title, after Arsenal closed the gap to United to a point with the leaders playing their game in hand against Chelsea on Tuesday. "We believe we are capable of winning the title," Szczesny said. "We've been very consistent lately and we don't concede a lot of goals. We fancy our chances of catching them up and winning the title this year.
"If we keep playing consistently, this will make a difference in the title race. They've got to come here [to the Emirates Stadium] and we believe we are capable of beating them."
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