While Arsenal were the only club in Europe’s top five leagues not to sign an outfield player last summer, there is little doubt over the quality of the one acquisition Arsene Wenger did make.
Squeezed out by Chelsea, Petr Čech’s move across the capital has undoubtedly been a success, but one ramification was that it left Wojciech Szczęsny knowing he would need to leave the North London club.
“I'm not stupid,” the Polish goalkeeper told a website in his homeland back in November. “If you buy one of the world's best goalkeepers, it's not to keep him on the bench. I actually wanted to stay and challenge him for the spot but after a conversation with the boss it was obvious that I should be looking for new opportunities.”
It was undoubtedly a difficult admission for a player who joined Arsenal back in 2006, progressing through the youth ranks to make his debut three years later whilst still only 19. Yet Szczęsny endured a turbulent time, one that saw him experience a raft of highs and lows over almost a decade of service.
Those ranged from losing his status as the club’s first choice goalkeeper to the likes of Łukasz Fabiański and David Ospina, to sharing the Premier League’s Golden Glove award for the 2013/14 campaign. But he would move on loan after Čech made the switch, joining an AS Roma side that were fully expected to overhaul Juventus at the top of the Serie A standings.
The Giallorossi had finished in second place in each of the last two seasons, but the departure of Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal was expected to weaken the reigning champions enough for them to capitalise. “If I work hard - and with the help of the coaches - I'll be able to help the team improve from last season and hopefully challenge for the title,” Szczęsny said shortly after the deal was agreed, and he was not the only new face to arrive.
Indeed, Rudi Garcia’s already excellent squad was further bolstered by the signings of Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah, ex-Manchester City striker Edin Džeko and France international Lucas Digne. Each of those appeared to improve the weakest areas of the squad, and it was little surprise to see Roma lose just one of their opening ten matches and occupy first place.
It was a run that included a seemingly significant victory over Juventus, the three points only secured when Szczęsny managed to somehow tip a header from Leonardo Bonucci around the post in injury time. Yet, as always seems to be the case with Roma, the fall was only just around the corner. Week 11 saw them travel to Milan for a top-of-the-table clash with Inter, with Szczęsny’s poor performance widely criticised as he carried much of the blame.
Victories over Bayer Leverkusen and in the derby with Lazio made it seem as if they had immediately bounced back, but a draw with Bologna was followed by a 6-1 hammering by Barcelona from which they never recovered.
With just one win in ten matches, Garcia would be sacked as one by one Roma’s rivals overtook them, and they currently sit in fifth place, a staggering 12 points off the pace. The goalkeeper has kept just four clean sheets in 20 Serie A appearances, but has conceded just 15 goals, a stark contrast to the Champions League where he was beaten 16 times in the Group Stage alone.
Roma have finally returned to winning ways under new boss Luciano Spalletti, notching victories in their last three outings. Szczęsny was arguably man of the match in their 2-0 triumph against high-flying Sassuolo last week, pulling off a string of top class saves in a game that showed just how good the 25-year-old can be. He repeatedly denied the likes of Domenico Berardi and Nicola Sansone before his side grabbed a late second goal from Stephan El Shaarawy to seal the points.
But reports in both Italy and the UK seem to indicate the Giallorossi will not take up their option to sign Szczęsny this summer, preferring instead to move in another direction and prompting talk of interest from Everton, who look set to lose Tim Howard in the summer. That may well suit the Warsaw native as he has never hidden his desire to return to England, or indeed his love of Arsenal despite still appearing to be surplus to requirements at the Emirates.
“I watch all Arsenal games, of course, and I hope they will be champions, honestly.” he told the Polish national team’s official YouTube channel recently. “I spoke to Theo Walcott yesterday and told him they have to win it, but it’s going to make me look like some kind of idiot!”
Both that and the future of Szczęsny have yet to be decided, but it seems he may soon be leaving another capital city with dreams of what might have been, rather than with a winner’s medal hanging around his neck.
Read more from Adam Digby