Feature

Long read: Zinsberger on crazy GKs, pressure, more

Manu

There's a well-known saying in English football: all goalkeepers are crazy.

We've certainly seen our fair share of characters wearing The Arsenal's No 1 shirt in years gone by. Jens Lehmann was nicknamed 'Mad Jens', Wojciech Szczesny was larger than life and Emma Byrne was also a big personality in the dressing room.

So just how accurate is this saying when applied to our current crop?

"Many, many times I've heard this expression," laughs Manuela Zinsberger. "We have to be a little bit crazy. People are shooting at our goal and we have to throw our bodies at the ball, smashing into tackles or whatever.

"That's how it is and I think the team needs a little bit of crazy. Having three crazy people is enough for the team. For me it's kind of normal. I don't think I'm as crazy as other goalkeepers, though!"

So, crazy? Perhaps not. But Zinsberger is a huge personality behind the scenes in north London - Joe Montemurro recently described her as 'a special player for the group' - and one whose influence is appreciated by coaches and team-mates alike.

So much so, in fact, that the Austria international was offered a new long-term deal this week. An offer, she admits, she would have had to have been 'crazy' to turn down.

"Of course I was so happy that I could extend my contract," she begins. "We've got so much potential in the team and I'm looking forward to what comes in the future.

"All the players have so much quality that each training session is just unbelievable. I also like the work behind the scenes from the staff, who think about the athletes all the time.

"In the gym, everything is tailored to the individual so I think I've really improved myself as an athlete. But it's also the way that Arsenal plays, it's really enjoyable. I'm just looking forward to what is coming up."

Zinsberger

Brought in by Montemurro from Bayern Munich in May 2019, our goalkeeper had already established herself as her country's first-choice and was quickly making a name for herself as one of Europe's most exciting modern stoppers.

Comfortable with the ball at her feet and blessed with a good range of passing, Zinsberger seemed the perfect fit for the footballing DNA on the red side of north London.

But even though distribution has always been one of her biggest strengths, the 25-year-old knew she could still improve in Montemurro's system.

"When I think about as a footballer, I am now much more comfortable with both feet," Zinsberger admits. "I'm an active goalkeeper who always wants to play, who always wants to have the ball.

"The way Arsenal is playing means that you need a goalkeeper who wants to play and you need a goalkeeper who is used to different balls, who is very active and maybe sometimes kind of like a centre back.

"It's not just about the simple balls to the centre backs. Maybe it's the other options where you can try something a bit different and maybe take four or five opponents out of the game with one pass.

"Sometimes it can be a little bit tricky because Leanne [Hall, goalkeeping coach] doesn't like it that much," she laughs. "But I think I've really improved as a player but as a person I'm really trying to lead a little bit more and grow as much as I can. There are many, many small steps but at the end hopefully it's a big outcome."

A wry smile breaks out across Zinsberger's face as she jokes about Hall's traditional style of goalkeeping. But the Austrian is just as quick to point out how much she has benefited from her first full-time women's goalkeeping coach.

"I really appreciate her time and everything she's invested in all of the goalkeepers, and also the whole team," our No 1 says. "I've never dealt with a full-time goalkeeping coach before so I really appreciate that she's always there.

"It doesn't matter whether it's watching footage, asking questions on the pitch, she's always there for me. She's really working on the detail but also she has the knowledge of the outfield players, so when we are clipping some balls to outfield players it's about that detail.

"Her work is unbelievable and that's why I think I've improved myself so much. Also it's because of the other coaches but I think she's had the biggest part to play in my improvement. I really appreciate that and it's another reason why I've extended my contract."

Zinsberger and Hall

Another thing Zinsberger has benefitted from is Lydia Williams' summer arrival, as well as Fran Stenson's return from last season's loan with Blackburn Rovers.

Now our goalkeeping unit contains three highly-rated stoppers in different stages of their careers, and the 25-year-old says the blend of youth and experience has only increased the level of competition in training.

"That's the most important thing," she begins. "It's hard when there's three players going for one position, but when you want to improve yourself you need that competition. It's a lovely, great and funny group to have.

"When I talk to Lydia, with her experience she has this different overview of the game and how we should communicate with defenders or the team. She has strengths where maybe I have my weaknesses. I think it's the little things. As I've said before, one of her real strengths is leading the team. She's in the goal but she's communicating and always being present in the game.

"She has played so many tournaments, so that experience is something nobody can take away from you. The little things are what you can learn from the most. We can learn from each other and that's a great thing to have. She's a great person as well. Her life story is crazy and everyone appreciates that.

"Fran as well, she's young but has so much quality, so much potential in herself. When everyone is taking their own strengths and weaknesses, and trying to improve both of them, we'll get the best version of ourselves. We can just be glad that we have such great goalkeepers in our club."

This stiff competition, of course, can sometimes be a double-edged sword. And when there is that level of quality within the ranks, the starting goalkeeper knows they may only be one mistake away from not only conceding a goal, but also their place in the XI.

"You know before you sign up to be a goalkeeper that one mistake could cost the match," Zinsberger reveals. "You can be at the very top of your game but then all of a sudden you can fall right to the bottom. You just have to stay positive and once it's happened, you have to try to solve the problem by looking forward.

'I know something can happen but I know that I have my team behind me, so it's about focusing on the minutes that are left in that game. You can't solve what's happened, you can only look forward. That's what you have to think.

"After the game, you can analyse it and see what we can actually do better in the next session to maybe reduce the mistakes or not make that mistake ever again. It's just about being open, being focused and thinking about the right things.

"Every game needs to be a fight and you cannot drop any percentage in the game against a lower team in the table. You really have to perform at the high level, so it's about keeping up the hard work and bringing the results back."

Zinsberger

So what are the key attributes that Zinsberger is focusing on in training right now?

"I'm trying to work on my athletics programme to make me more explosive, to have more power in the air when coming for crosses," she says. "In England it's so important because you get so many crosses where you have to deal with them, be present and help your team.

"There are so many little things that I'm working on but I'm also working at home on my mental strength, thinking about how I can improve myself off the person. There are so many things you can do to actually work on yourself.

"I'm still working on every single step but I can see the potential that I have. I'm just looking forward to everything that's coming up. I can improve every single part of my game on the pitch and also off the pitch. I'm just working as hard as possible to be the best version of myself to support the team as well as possible."

Zinsberger has certainly played her part since arriving in the capital. The 25-year-old has kept 12 clean sheets in 31 appearances, but has most notably gained a reputation as a penalty-saving specialist.

Her first stop to deny Yana Daniels at Bristol City was followed by saves against Manchester City's Ellen White and Tottenham Hotspur's Rianna Dean. So how much has Zinsberger worked on penalties in training?

"Honestly, it's 50/50," she admits. "Sometimes it's a kind of feeling. I'm not the kind of person who's watched that many penalties before. Sometimes it's just about believing in yourself and trusting your feeling.

"Maybe I'm just very lucky! When I'm actually deciding which corner to go for, I really try to wait as long as possible but then be explosive, really believe, think about my decision and then just go for it."

And our fans are all too familiar with Zinsberger's reactions when she does make an important save. Or when a team-mate scores. Or when we win. Our goalkeeper just loves to celebrate!

"I want to show the fans how much I really appreciate playing for such a big club," the No 1 explains. "I have so much passion for not just saving a goal, but when Viv or other players score a goal for us.

"Something happens inside of me and I have to jump! I always celebrate on my own - I won't run to the team because otherwise I will struggle to get back! It's just the way I feel, my passion for the game, but it's not the same without fans.

"We're really missing them and we always appreciate when the fans are in the stadium screaming our names, supporting us even when we concede a goal. Whether we're winning, losing, scoring, whatever, they're always there and we're missing our fans. Hopefully they can be back soon, be crazy and celebrate these moments with me."

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