Talking Point

There are just some players that a football supporter doesn’t rate. We’ve all got them; players we’ve seen playing for other clubs that seem to live up to our low expectations every time we see them play. Players who we are grateful are testing the nerves of supporters at other clubs, rather than at the Hammers.

One of those players for me has been Lukasz Fabianski. I’ve been watching the Polish goalkeeper since he occasionally broke into the side at Arsenal and have never been impressed. When watching Champions League matches with friends or family, I’d often see his name on the team-sheet and confidently proclaim that he would drop a cross or come off his line at a set-piece and get hopelessly nowhere near the ball. Invariably, he did and seemingly often he would be at fault for a goal.

To be fair, he was a young goalkeeper learning his trade in those days. And, while on a conciliatory approach, he does arrive in east London on the back of what appears to be a successful season for him individually – even if it was a disaster for his team. He won Swansea’s Player of the Year award in 2017/18 – not an onerous task given the departure of Gylfi Sigurdsson who had won it the previous two seasons, the Icelandic midfielder having done much to help the club survive previously. Fabianski was also second in last season’s ‘Most Saves’ table with 137, behind only Jack Butland’s 144. I thought I’d take this opportunity to provide readers with a run-through of his career to date…

Lukasz Fabianski was born in Kostrzyn nad Odra, western Poland on 18th April 1985; after starting his career with Polonia Slubice, Fabianski joined the noted independent football academy MSP Szamotuly at age 14 before signing for Lech Poznan in 2004/05. In the winter of 2005, Fabianski was signed by Legia Warsaw, where he competed with Artur Boruc for a place in the team. He made his debut at the age of 19 in a 4-1 Polish Cup win over Arka Gdynia on 6th October 2004. Fabianski took over the goalkeeping gloves after Boruc was sold to Celtic, making his league debut on 24th July 2005 against the same team as he had on his cup debut, Arka Gdynia, in a 0-0 draw. He helped Legia win the Polish league championship in the 2005/06 season, conceding 22 goals in 32 matches and keeping 19 clean sheets. Fabianski’s performances for his club soon saw him making his debut for Poland in a friendly against Saudi Arabia on 29th March 2006. He has since won 45 caps for his country, playing four of his country’s five matches at Euro 2016. He is currently in Russia as reserve goalkeeper to Wojciech Szczesny, who played less than half of Juventus’ matches last season. The 2006/07 campaign saw Fabianski concede 37 goals in 30 matches, keeping eight clean sheets. His performances led to him being awarded the ‘Football Oscar’ for the best goalkeeper in the Ekstraklasa in both the 2005/06 and 2006/07 seasons.

In May 2007, the 22-year-old Fabianski signed for Arsenal in a £2.1m deal. He made his debut in a 2-0 home win over Newcastle in the League Cup third round on 25th September 2007 and would remain the Gunners’ goalkeeper for that competition that season until a disastrous 5-1 defeat to arch-rivals Tottenham in the second leg of the semi-finals, which saw Spurs progress to the Final 6-2 on aggregate. He made his Premier League debut in a 6-2 win at Derby on 28th April 2008. He conceded ten goals in eight games in 2007/08, keeping four clean sheets.

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Fabianski was described as “much-maligned” by the BBC in 2008/09 after a horror show against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final gifted the west Londoners a place in the Final. With Arsenal leading 1-0, he was beaten at his near post by Florent Malouda for the equaliser and unnecessarily came haring out of his area with seven minutes to go only for Didier Drogba to beat him to the ball and give Chelsea victory. Three days later he conceded four at Anfield in a 4-4 draw with Liverpool and again conceded four a month later in a 4-1 home defeat to Chelsea. Fabianski made 18 appearances in 2008/09, conceding 16 goals and keeping ten clean sheets. He was Arsenal’s goalkeeper for domestic cups but, alongside their FA Cup exit to Chelsea, they were beaten 2-0 at Burnley in the League Cup.

2009/10 again saw Fabianski in the role of Arsenal’s cup ‘keeper – they were knocked out of the FA Cup at Stoke, losing 3-1 in the fourth round and dumped out of the League Cup in the quarter-finals after a 3-0 defeat at Man City. He also played two matches in the Champions League, scoring an own goal in a 2-1 defeat at Porto in the first leg of the last 16 tie – with the ball coming square across his six-yard box, Fabianski palmed the ball into his own net. Later in the same game he picked up a backpass by Sol Campbell with Porto scoring their second from the resulting free-kick. Arsenal won the second leg 5-0 to progress to the quarter-finals, with Fabianski left out of the side. He made ten appearances in 2009/10, conceding 16 goals and keeping just two clean sheets.

Fabianski enjoyed a stronger start to 2010/11 but would only play one domestic cup game, in a 4-1 win at Tottenham in the League Cup third round. Ironically, Arsenal would reach a Cup Final without him, although they lost in the same competition to Birmingham at Wembley. He played in five of Arsenal’s six Champions League group stage matches, and also made 14 Premier League appearances, but a shoulder injury picked up in January kept him out for the rest of the season. He made 20 appearances in 2010/11, conceding 22 goals and keeping five clean sheets.

2011/12 was a season to forget for Fabianski as, despite recovering from his injury in time for the season’s start, he only made six appearances, conceding eight goals and failing to keep a clean sheet. He was once again Arsenal’s domestic cup custodian but they were beaten 2-0 at Sunderland in the FA Cup fifth round and lost 1-0 at home to Manchester City in the League Cup quarter-finals. 2012/13 was a similar tale of woe for the Pole as shoulder, ankle and rib injuries restricted him to just five appearances, all in the Premier League or Champions League, conceding three goals and keeping two clean sheets.

Fabianski made 11 appearances for Arsenal in his final season at the club, finally reaching a Cup Final as his penalty shoot-out saves in the semi-final against Wigan (including one from Jack Collison) sent the Gunners to the FA Cup Final. Arsenal won the FA Cup following a 3-2 win after extra-time in the Final against Hull. Arsenal found themselves 2-0 down and Hull also hit the post before the Gunners came back to win – not without a final Fabianski scare though as, 3-2 up and with five minutes left of extra-time, Fabianski came racing out of his goal towards the touchline only to be beaten by Sone Aluko, who saw his effort from distance drift agonisingly past the far post. Fabianski conceded 11 goals in his 11 games in 2013/14, keeping three clean sheets.

In his seven years at Arsenal, Fabianski made 78 appearances, conceding 86 goals and keeping 26 clean sheets. He signed for Swansea at the age of 29 on a Bosman free transfer in May 2014. He made his debut in a 2-1 win at Manchester United on the opening day of the 2014/15 season. He received the first red card of his career at Upton Park in December 2014, again racing unnecessarily from his goal to impede Diafra Sakho. The Hammers, already 2-1 up through an Andy Carroll double, went on to win the match 3-1. He made 38 appearances in league and cup in 2014/15, conceding 46 goals and keeping 13 clean sheets.

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2015/16 saw more goals conceded and less clean sheets as Swansea dropped from eighth the previous campaign to 12th. Fabianski played 37 Premier League games, conceding 51 goals and keeping nine clean sheets. He made four errors which led directly to goals – only fellow Pole Artur Boruc, at Bournemouth, made more. The exact same pattern continued in 2016/17 – more goals conceded, less clean sheets, second in the league for errors leading to goals. This time Fabianski again made 37 league appearances, conceding 69 goals and keeping eight clean sheets. He made three errors leading directly to goals, second only to West Ham’s Darren Randolph, as Swansea dropped again to 15th.

Last season was undoubtedly a better season for Fabianski on a personal level, even though his club were relegated. He made 38 appearances, conceded 56 goals, kept nine clean sheets and made no errors leading directly to goals. Since signing for Swansea in 2014 though, he has made ten errors which led directly to goals – double the amount of Adrian in the same time period. During his time at Swansea he made 150 appearances, conceded 222 goals and kept 39 clean sheets.

Speaking personally, if we have signed Fabianski to be a back-up goalkeeper to Adrian and/or to provide competition, I think it’s a very good signing. He has Premier League, Champions League and international experience and is a good addition to the squad. However, if he’s been brought in to be parachuted into the number one spot, I have to say I have my doubts. He is a very impressive shot-stopper, as supported by his excellent ‘number of saves’ statistic but, over the years, is prone to some major errors on crosses, decision-making and with the ball at his feet. I appreciate that the same criticisms can be levelled at Adrian but I just don’t see Fabianski as an improvement. Fabianski also has a touch of the Roy Carroll about him, in that he tends to parry balls back into the danger area rather than push the ball wide of his goalmouth. I’m sure many of us can also recall hoping Andy Carroll would be fit whenever we’ve played Swansea in recent seasons as Fabianski and his defence never looked comfortable dealing with that aerial threat.

From a transfer strategy perspective, signing Fabianski with the view of starting him will unsettle Adrian. The position of goalkeeper is like no other in a squad – centre-halves, central midfielders and strikers have more opportunities to play. There are more of them on the pitch, they get more injuries so their replacements get more game time and it is easier to drop an outfield player if they are out of form. It’s different for a goalkeeper – if you’re out of the side, you probably won’t play again for months. At 31, I can appreciate that Adrian may seek a move and don’t agree with those who may criticise him for wanting to move for a better chance of first-team football – he would be protecting himself and his career and has been messed about enough of late with inadequate replacements. The Spanish stopper has one year remaining on his contract. If it does become clear that Fabianski has been bought to start, then we may find ourselves in the position of having to buy a second goalkeeper.

If we were going to sign a new starting goalkeeper, I would personally have preferred it to be someone who would be a clear and obvious improvement. Nevertheless, as with all other new signings, I wish Lukasz Fabianski all the very best during his time at West Ham United.

To finish on a positive note: firstly, well done to the board for signing their first goalkeeper for more than a nominal fee since taking over the club eight and a half years ago. The last goalkeeper we spent more than a million on was Robert Green back in 2006, who arrived for a £2m fee and went on to become a Hammers hero. Since the current owners took over, they have brought in Jussi Jaaskelainen, Adrian and Darren Randolph on free transfers and Manuel Almunia and Joe Hart on loan, while Ruud Boffin and Stephen Henderson were signed for nominal fees. As a second positive to end with, here are some of Lukasz Fabianski’s saves from the 2017/18 season.