• Arsène Wenger praises Polish goalkeeper's character
• 'He has matured through disappointments like we all do'
Arsène Wenger cannot forget how Jens Lehmann reacted after he had dared to drop him. "He told me: 'I will force you to play me again,'" the Arsenal manager said. It is easy to imagine that this was the abridged version of the conversation he had with the former Germany goalkeeper.
Wojciech Szczesny did not say the same thing. Dropped last March for the Champions League tie at Bayern Munich after a difficult season, in which he had struggled to move on from his personal disaster at Euro 2012, the Poland goalkeeper did not like it, even if it was his father, Maciej, who was outspoken in public.
Szczesny, though, did draw inspiration from Lehmann. "I gave him Lehmann as an example," Wenger said and, on the face of it, it is possible to see the similarity between the goalkeepers. Both are unusually outgoing and, in Szczesny's case, it appears to run in the family. Maciej, himself a former Poland goalkeeper, once punched Roberto Mancini in the face during a European Cup Winners' Cup knockout tie.
But Szczesny's persona, according to Wenger, belies his intelligence and awareness, which extends to the ability to be self-critical and feel the pangs of doubt. He cleared his head after the Munich tie, which Arsenal won to fire an upturn in their fortunes, and he simply resolved to force Wenger's hand at the next opportunity. It came after four games, upon an injury to his replacement, Lukasz Fabianski and, it is fair to say, he has not looked back since.
Szczesny closed out last season with four clean sheets and only two concessions in six matches as Arsenal qualified for the Champions League, while this time he has conceded nine in 11 starts and frequently excelled. He was recalled to play his first competitive match for Poland since Euro 2012 against England at Wembley last Tuesday, when he made dramatic saves and threatened to thwart the home team as his compatriot, Jan Tomaszewski, had done in 1973.
Szczesny had been one of the poster boys for Poland's co-hosting of the European Championship but he was sent off in the opening tie against Greece, suspended and then overlooked. He also had to endure the speculation last summer that Wenger was on the market for a new No1.
"He questioned himself, especially after the European Championship, where it was a massive disappointment for him and it affected his belief," Wenger said. "But he has matured through disappointments like we all do. I believe that every big player has to go through that. It took him a while. I took him out of the team last season but since he came back, he has been consistent.
"The speculation [last summer] didn't come from me. I was always convinced that Szczesny would make it. He was a bit kamikaze when he played at youth level but he also made impressive saves. You need that kind of character to be a good goalkeeper. People also forget that he is 23 years old, which is like being 18 for an outfield player."
It is a quirk that Wenger also dropped Thomas Vermaelen in Munich but the club captain has fared rather less well in the quest to regain his place. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have established themselves as the first-choice central defensive partnership, to leave Wenger admitting that his choice of captain appears contradictory.
"It doesn't look logical," Wenger said, before Saturday's home fixture against Norwich City. "But you play the best pair, they have worked until now and so it's difficult to change. I don't worry for Vermaelen because he is a very strong guy. The situation can change quickly. Sometimes, players who don't play in September and October are the main players by March. The important thing in our job is to never give up. You have to stay and fight."
Wenger gave an update on his contractual situation, when he admitted that the firm offer of an extension had been put to him. "Yes, I didn't deny that," he said. His current deal expires next summer but he is believed to be very close to agreeing to fresh terms.