“A top goalkeeper saves his team 12-15 points every season.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
For an Arsenal team that has been branded the ultimate nearly men since 2004, and has lacked a world-class goalkeeper since Lehmann’s departure, the signing of Petr Cech signals the beginning of a new, and possibly a very successful era at Islington.
Arsene Wenger- a manager known best for his ability to identify and develop youngsters who eventually become world beaters- he has developed a questionable blindspot for goalkeepers, possibly stemming from the purchase of Richard Wright in 2001, a goalkeeper who flopped woefully at the club and is currently making a living filling up Manchester City’s home quota without any discernible chance of getting a game. Since then, he decided to place his faith in goalkeepers like Almunia- who could never catch anything at his near post, and had an uncanny knack for conceding highlight-reel freekicks. Fabianski- talented as he’s proving at Swansea but prone to mistakes and a very fidgety body language, and Szczesny who has developed a reputation of being a liability, not least for conceding 2 goals at Southampton from personal defensive errors, and deeming it fit to down Gatorade soon after. Simply put, the club needed a massive improvement and the statistics speak of Cech as a significant upgrade.
220 clean sheets in 333 games for Chelsea, Cech stands at the top of the pile as one of the very best goalkeepers ever. Not to mention in 2014-15, Cech kept more clean sheets than Szczesny, despite playing 10 fewer games. He also saved 88.9% of the shots on target he faced, more than any other goalkeeper in the PL. Szczesny on the other hand, saved only 67.2% of his, just a little more than Robert Green of relegated Queens Park Rangers. Also, over the past 3 years, no other PL goalkeeper has bested his 78% save to shots ratio.
In Petr Cech, Arsenal have signed unarguably one of the top 5 goalkeepers on the planet and a serial winner unseen at the club since Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival in 1995. The value of a figure in the dressing room that inspires confidence and a winning attitude cannot be overstated, and meshed with the young core of the Gunners who have experienced some success(in the FA cup), cements the fact that Arsenal are on the cusp of something great. Cech will bring invaluable experience and title-winning expertise, which in turn will instill discipline and attention to detail in the Gunners’ backline, a trait he said in an interview with Arsenal.com helped Chelsea win so many ‘big’ games.
This move has striking similarities with Edwin Van der Sar’s switch from Fulham to Manchester United. Both were entering the twilight of their careers – a career point that has proven to be the most productive for goalkeepers- having enjoyed individual and team success very early on in their careers as well. Van der Sar was the starting goalkeeper in a young Ajax side that won the Champions League in 1995, while Cech was named as the best goalkeeper in the European championships in 2004. Cech held the record of most minutes without conceding a goal in the PL until Van der Sar broke it and set a world record for most minutes without conceding a goal (1311). Both jointly hold the record for most Premier League clean sheets in a single season.
Van der Sar’s move from Juventus to Fulham is also akin to Cech’s move to Arsenal. After Juventus broke the bank to sign Gianluigi Buffon in 2001, Van der Sar was effectively relegated to the bench for the next season. Courtois was supposed to be Cech’s long-term replacement but his young age and the meteoric improvements in his last seasons at Atletico Madrid meant he could not be farmed out on loan anymore- especially after playing a key role in knocking his parent club Chelsea out of the UCL in 2014- also relieving Cech of his 1st team duties in the process. These two great goalkeepers suffered the ignominy of warming the bench for a whole season, and in Van der Sar’s case, this proved to be a catalyst for the success in the latter parts of his career with Manchester United; 4 Premier League titles and a Champions League winners’ medal later, his record speaks volumes. The consistency of Cech’s performances over the years suggests the latter parts of his career will have similar levels of prolonged, sustained success.
It’s been no surprise that Jose Mourinho, Nemanja Matic, and Branislav Ivanovic have come out to voice their disagreement with Cech’s sale to a fellow rival. For Arsenal, it takes the squad depth to another level, weakening Chelsea’s in the process.
Furthermore, this move also means that Chelsea’s great title-winning sides of 2005 and 2006 have been dismantled, leaving John Terry as the last old guard. In football, a team’s evolution cannot be altered, or the club risks going backwards. Most of those players had been past their peaks and rightly so, but some just refuse to go, as we saw with Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba recently. Even Terry poked fun at Rafa Benitez during the club’s championship parade for coming out to say he could not play 2 games on the spin back when the Spaniard was in charge of the Blues.
Wengers’s route with goalkeepers has been rocky for a decade but he seems to have now trodden a clear, defined path with the Cech signing, and time will eventually tell he struck gold here. Only he would wonder why he waited so long.
Question: Are there more transfers going on between the top English teams?
Answer: I feel this is a false misconception as most of these transfers are “forced,” as the selling clubs do not have as much control over the transfers as they usually do. For instance, Robin van Persie’s transfer to Manchester United only happened because he refused to sign a new contract, and Arsenal’s financial situation meant Wenger could not take a gamble and let him leave for nothing the next year.
Also, Carlos Tevez’s switch to Manchester City from Manchester United was only possible because he was owned by an agency in South America and not Manchester United.
The likes of Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata were deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea, while James Milner and Bacary Sagna both left after their contracts expired.
Editor’s note: Interestingly, No Premier League manager has sold more players to Arsene Wenger than Jose Mourinho.
Cech is the the third to toe this path, following William Gallas and Lassana Diarra.