Exclusive: Arsenal legend backs Szczesny to start at Wembley, but wants Gunners to sign Chelsea keeper too
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Bob Wilson has backed Wojciech Szczesny to start Saturday’s FA Cup final – and claims he still has “all the talent needed” to be Arsenal’s first choice for many years.
The controversial goalkeeper was axed after smoking a cigarette in the changing room following a 2-0 defeat to Southampton on New Year’s Day, but could benefit from Arsene Wenger’s policy of recalling reserve keepers for FA Cup matches.
Colombian David Ospina has played every Premier League game since – coinciding with Arsenal’s improved form in the second half of the season as they secured a top-three finish – with Szczesny appearing in all FA Cup games since the 3-2 fourth round win at Brighton.
Ironically, Szczesny was left out for last year’s final in favour of his then deputy, compatriot Lukasz Fabianski.
Wilson, the Gunners’ 1971 Double-winning goalkeeper, said: “I think he will play Szczesny. That is what Arsene Wenger does – it is a loyalty thing.
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“Ospina has really impressed me with his presence and has been pretty safe, although he made a couple of terrible decisions in the win over West Bromwich Albion at the weekend.
“I think Arsenal fans are probably split 50/50 on who they would rather have in the team.
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“But despite everything, despite his rashness and the incident with the cigarette – which I actually think was blown up a little too much – I still maintain the potential for Wojciech is really big.
“I have admired Ospina but he will not get shots that other keepers can because of his size – that is a problem. He is under 6ft and these days, with the way the ball moves and the size of players, a goalkeeper needs to really be 6ft 3ins at least.
“Wojciech is taller and has the ability. He is 24 and still a young man.
“A goalkeeper’s best years are between 27 and 37 and now is the time for Wojciech to put all these distractions out of his life and realise he will never play for a club as big as Arsenal. He is capable of doing it.”
But, despite his backing for the controversial Poland international, Wilson would love the Gunners to snatch Petr Cech from west London rivals Chelsea in the summer while Szczesny continues to learn his trade.
“If Arsenal do not pursue Cech then… well, put it this way, I rate him so highly I would put him on a par with Thibaut Courtois and he is better than David de Gea and Hugo Lloris,” he said.
“Cech would be a great signing for the club and really bolster our defence. He is fantastic and still has years left in him – I hope we go in for him.”
Looking ahead to Wembley on Saturday, Wilson has warned Arsenal fans not to underestimate the threat of Tim Sherwood’s revived Aston Villa after they maintained their Premier League status – despite defeats to Southampton and Burnley in recent weeks.
“Villa were playing badly when they went into their semi-final with Liverpool and look what happened then – they were outstanding,” added Wilson.
“I believe if we play to our potential we will win the FA Cup, but I do also think this will be one hell of a game. Villa have shown they can play well in big games.
“Arsenal did well against West Brom and it was good to see Theo Walcott score a hat-trick and Jack Wilshere get a goal too. It bodes well.”
And Wilson says third place and an FA Cup win would be classed as a major success at Emirates Stadium.
“If anyone thinks we are going to finish above Chelsea and Manchester City while they continue to be funded by rich oligarchs and oil money, then they are living in cloud cuckooland,” he said.
“This season we have competed very well and shown we are only two or three players away from going the distance. But Chelsea and City have those resources and we have to wait and see if Financial Fair Play has an effect.
“In the meantime, to finish third and, hopefully, bring the cup home would be a fantastic achievement.”