Arsenal face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday - and both clubs will have goalkeepers who have emerged from trying times to perform superbly for their clubs.
There has been a lot of hue and cry about Joe Hart’s loss of form. It has been suggested that dropping him would shatter his confidence. The logic seems a bit flawed because goal-keeping is the one position in football that requires tremendous mental fortitude. If a player’s confidence is so utterly fragile then he cannot be a top goalkeeper.
David de Gea and Wojciech Szczęsny are both 23 years old, with just six and a half months separating the pair. In goalkeeper terms, they are astonishingly young. Goalkeepers don’t reach their peak until their late twenties and for them to perform so admirably for such big clubs is a testament to their mental toughness. Both of them had to weather the storm in order to finally establish themselves as the custodians of the goal at their respective clubs.
David de Gea’s story is well documented. He signed for Manchester United from Atletico Madrid at the tender age of 21. His first season in the Premier League was a baptism of fire. Flapping at crosses and bullied by the opposition, he was replaced by Anders Lindegaard after a horror show against Blackburn Rovers in a 2-3 defeat at Old Trafford.
A few games spent on the bench, a lot of hard labour invested into eradicating his weaknesses and De Gea was back in the team. The 2012-13 season saw him play a key role as United wrested the title back from City. His rehabilitation was complete when he was voted into the Premier League team of the year. David De Gea is now a fixture in the United side. He will be a key figure in their clash against the Gunners - much like his counterpart Szczęsny.
Wojciech Szczęsny himself has had periods of difficulty at Arsenal. He conceded a howler in the League Cup final against Birmingham in February 2011; he was dropped for the game against Bayern in March 2013 and he had a rough start to the current season against Aston Villa.
He has had his fair share of criticism, but ultimately managed to cement his place in the Arsenal team. He responded splendidly to the Villa game, keeping three clean sheets in the next four matches. Clean sheets against Liverpool and Dortmund in a crucial week for Arsenal show how far he has come.
Whatever the outcome of the United-Arsenal game, the young men in goal will have a huge say in it. It’s a great tribute to them and their clubs that they have come such a long way at such a young age after enduring all the criticism that was thrown at them.
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