There’s not many teams in the Premier League who can confidently say they have two top quality goalkeepers at their disposal.
Manchester City have Ederson and Zack Steffen, Manchester United have two genuine number ones in David de Gea and Dean Henderson, while Chelsea have Edouard Mendy and, erm, Kepa – who cost £72m in case you’d forgotten.
But arguably there’s few other clubs who can look at their options right now and think ‘Hmm, we’re better stocked than West Ham’.
That’s because the Hammers have pulled off a superb bit of business to bring in Alphonse Areola on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. Last season was a bit of a disappointment for the Frenchman as he was relegated from the Premier League with Fulham, but individually he was fantastic between the Craven Cottage sticks.
Those talents were never going to be wasted on the periphery of Paris and West Ham have moved smartly to bring Areola in when interest would undoubtedly have been high.
It does beg the question, however, whether Lukasz Fabianski’s time as number one at the London Stadium is over. The Pole has been largely brilliant for West Ham since his arrival in 2018, winning the club’s Hammer of the Year award in his maiden season. That success followed a tremendously consistent spell at Swansea, where Fabianski established himself as, if we’re honest, one of the top six keepers in the division.
Injuries and the occasional error have crept into the 36-year-old’s game over the past 18 months, so it’s perhaps understandable that West Ham are looking at a changing of the guard. The question is, should that change be immediate? 90min decided to dig in to the detail and find out…
To help make a more informed decision on who Moyes should plump for on the opening day against Newcastle, we’ve done some statistical analysis (courtesy of FBRef) on how the pair performed last year, as well as in recent seasons.
Shot stopping is fundamentally the most important job of a goalkeeper, and it’s an area where Areola has bettered Fabianski. A busier goalkeeper last season because he was playing for Fulham, the 28-year-old made 114 saves from 156 shots faced – an overall save percentage of 73.1, seventh best in the Premier League.
The Pole, meanwhile, had 38 fewer shots to contend with, but saved just 96 of the 134 shots on target. That’s a save percentage of 69.4% and placed Fabianski 14th best in the division. Areola also had the better of the shot saving stats during 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Areola has the upper hand, no questions asked.
One area where Fabianski has always excelled is saving penalties, and that was evident again last season. He saved two of the six penalties he faced – one was missed – but Areola was unable to keep out any of the six he faced.
In fact, Areola has only ever saved one penalty kick out of the 15 he’s faced in his career – a rather grim percentage of 6.7. Fabianski has saved eight and watched a further three hit the woodwork or go wide/over, giving him a save percentage of 29.6%. Averaging almost three penalty saves in 10? Pretty good going, that.
Aerially, Areola has the slight advantage, standing 6’5 compared to Fabianski’s 6’3. Both are decent at handling crosses – although the Pole has looked a little shaky in the past when crowded out at set pieces – while the Frenchman usually has a more advanced starting position and is more willing to come out of his penalty area to deal with balls over the top.
Despite that, it’s splitting hairs when comparing their overall command of the box, and you really can’t overlook those stunning penalty numbers.
The two goalkeepers distribution methods were vastly different last season, owing to the contrasting styles in play of West Ham and Fulham.
Fabianski distributed over 200 more goal kicks that travelled more than 40 yards, and his success rate was superior to Areola’s by 12%. That’s probably a combination of the Pole’s accuracy and Michail Antonio’s (Sebastien Haller’s, too) ability to win the first ball.
Areola is strong playing out from the back, something that will appeal to David Moyes should he ever opt to change tact and encourage a shorter passing style of play, and not a single short pass was misplaced by Areola last season (221/221). He slightly edged Fabianski in medium pass accuracy and overall long pass accuracy, too (outside of goal kicks).
The above also applies for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons.
Performance levels from both goalkeepers have been high for the majority of their first-team careers, even though both have struggled to impose themselves at big clubs.
Fabianski barely got a look in at Arsenal during a seven-year spell- eventually moving to Swansea where he flourished – and Areola spent several seasons away from PSG trying to establish himself out on loan.
They’ve made some errors, yes, but per the Premier League’s official website, not many. Last season, Areola made two mistakes leading to goals and Fabianski just the one (he’s made 18 across the course of his top-flight PL career).
The real division between the two players comes down to their recent fitness. Areola has been a regular in five of his last six campaigns (at Fulham, PSG and Villarreal) and Fabianski a regular in his last seven. Crucially, the Pole has picked up five injuries since the start of 2019/20 alone – including groin, hip and arm problems.
Those have resulted in him missing 20 games for West Ham, while Areola has missed just one – during 2018/19 for PSG – because of a back issue. Not something you want from your first choice.
Fabianski has been a superb goalkeeper for West Ham, proving himself to be a real steal at £7m. But even he’ll be the first to acknowledge that he’s not at the peak of his powers, whereas Areola is coming into the best years of his career.
He was the star of a Fulham side bereft of any real quality, and anybody who watched Areola with any regularity last season will tell you that he’s a class act. West Ham need to up their game to ensure the 2019/20 campaign is no flash in the pan success, and this is the goalkeeper capable of strengthening the Hammers in an area where you need reliability.
It’s time for Moyes to change things up and start Areola.