Belfast Telegraph

Wilson backs Szczesny

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny deserves his place as Arsenal number one, according to double winner Bob Wilson.

The Poland international has found his position under the spotlight this week following reports he was caught smoking in the showers after Arsenal's 2-0 defeat at Southampton on New Year's Day, when his errors played a part for both goals.

It has been suggested the player will be fined around £20,000 for his alleged misdemeanour, and it remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old will be back between the posts for Sunday's Barclays Premier League game against Stoke at the Emirates Stadium after he was replaced by Colombian David Ospina for last weekend's FA Cup tie versus Hull - a move always planned by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.

Szczesny's father Maciej Szczesny, meanwhile, insists his son should not be singled out for Arsenal's defensive shortcomings, declaring centre-half Per Mertesacker "showed the agility of a rhinoceros" as the team let in the first goal at Southampton.

Wilson - who made more than 300 appearances for Arsenal and helped them win the 1971 Football League and FA Cup double before returning to the club as a goalkeeper coach - believes Szczesny should not be ostracised for one high-profile poor performance.

"Wojciech deserves to be the Arsenal number one at this time," Wilson said in an interview with the London Evening Standard.

"Ospina looked pretty good at the World Cup and he looked fine in the Hull game. He made a couple of really good catches and made one save low down, but that is all he had to do. It wasn't a serious test.

"What niggles me about this recent criticism (of Szczesny) after the Southampton game is that if people go back four days to the West Ham game (on December 28), his performance was so good he won us the three points.

"If you are looking for incidents to blame him, put the first goal at Southampton against him, fine, but don't start arguing with me about the second goal because it was not his fault.

"Any goalkeeper will tell you, lying on the floor with the opposition closing in on you, you make contact and you have no chance to get any leverage on it. It could go anywhere as a result of a situation not of his making.

"He did not have his best game, but most ex-keepers would say the last thing you want to do with your number one goalie is give him a rest. If I was goalkeeping coach there now and Arsene was asking me, I would say, 'don't drop him'.

"Every goalkeeper makes mistakes. I spend a lot of time with David Seaman and all anybody asks him was, 'what happened with Ronaldinho (against Brazil at the 2002 World Cup) and Nayim? (in the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final).'

"The people in the know should recognise who is the best goalkeeper there (at Arsenal)."

Wilson, the 73-year-old who retired from his Arsenal role in 2002, but remains involved at the club and promotes charity work for the Willow Foundation, understands all too well how testing a career as the last time of defence can be.

"It shouldn't affect you, but sometimes it does because you aren't in the best place," he said.

"Wojciech seems to be a very confident, phlegmatic boy. A problem has cropped up here and he has to remain totally focused.

"The only time I can give a similar example was after we had won the double, I got carried off in the semi-final of the 1972 FA Cup and was out for six or seven months.

"I came back the following season and we lost 5-0 at Derby. Every newspaper said, 'this is the end of Bob Wilson'. My kids came back from school crying because the other kids had said, 'your Dad is useless'.

"The next game was Tottenham away. We won, I had a blinder and my place in the team was assured.

"You must never believe you are anything less than good enough and always think you are better than the guy challenging you. Wojciech needs to keep his confidence high."

Wenger is expected to step up efforts to bring in some much-needed defensive cover as the January transfer window continues, with St Etienne captain Loic Perrin and Villarreal's Gabriel Paulista reported targets.

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