Could Wenger’s keeper decision backfire on Arsenal?

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Petr Cech” (CC BY 2.0) by Ronnie Macdonald

Arsene Wenger raised eyebrows when he handed David Ospina a starting place in his side’s Champions League opener against Paris Saint-Germain ahead of Petr Cech. The Colombian made a string of high-profile errors in the competition last season in the club’s defeats to Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos. As a result, Gunners supporters were bemused to see the 28-year-old between the sticks rather than the reliable hands of Cech in the Parc des Princes.

Despite an early setback when Edinson Cavani put PSG ahead in the opening minute, Ospina produced a number of fine saves to keep Unai Emery’s men at bay, allowing Arsenal to snatch a point after Alexis Sanchez netted 13 minutes from time.

The Gunners will need a similar standard of performances from the Colombian to make a charge for the Champions League crown, with Wenger’s men backed at 25/1 in the Bet365 football betting odds to win the tournament for the first time.

Ospina was signed by Wenger two years ago when Arsenal supporters were demanding a change between the sticks after years of inconsistent play from players such as Manuel Almunia, Vito Mannone, Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny. He played in half of their Premier League fixtures, splitting time with Szczesny, although he was left on the bench in the biggest games of the campaign, including the club’s FA Cup triumph over Aston Villa.

Arsenal seized on the opportunity to sign Petr Cech from Chelsea in the summer of 2015 after he was ousted from the starting berth at Stamford Bridge by Thibaut Courtois. Wenger was left with a decision regarding his three keepers, and chose to send Szczesny out on loan to Roma for the season.

Cech was installed as the number one, although Ospina was handed opportunities in the Champions League where he made crucial errors in their opening two fixtures that would almost see the club eliminated at the group stage. As a result, the Czech would be a permanent fixture in major fixtures for the rest of the league and European campaign.

Wenger’s decision to recall the Colombian into the fold creates an interesting dynamic for Arsenal, especially given the changes at the club over the summer. Shkodran Mustafi was signed to play alongside Laurent Koscielny, while Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista both have injury problems, leaving only youngster Rob Holding left for cover due to Calum Chambers’ departure.

Cech is still one of the leading keepers in world football, despite making a couple of mistakes during his time at the Emirates. Chopping and changing keepers with different styles could lead to confusion in the future as Cech is quite a vocal player and dominant on crosses, while Ospina’s strengths lie in his superior shot stopping, as proven in Paris.

The Gunners have only kept one clean sheet so far this term, which they were arguably fortunate to claim in their goalless draw against Leicester City. Their defence was stout in the Premier League last season, conceding 36 goals, but the four strikes they shipped on the opening day against Liverpool has raised concerns whether that will continue.

Although Wenger stated that he promised Ospina playing time to keep him at the club it might be in the best interests of Arsenal to have an established number one that features in every match, like at Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich rather than the example of Barcelona and Real Madrid, whose potent attacks can usually make up for any keeping errors.

The Frenchman has created a problem for himself should defensive mistakes arise in the future; one which he doesn’t need given the pressure he is already under from supporters due to their lack of success in the Premier League and Champions League.

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