“A camera behind the team” – that is the charming imagery offered by Arsène Wenger in describing his signing of the season, goalkeeper Petr Cech.
We can infer from Wenger’s wisdom that Cech is afforded not only a fine perspective on the game but that he also has the wit to communicate what he sees.
Wenger thought he was buying a bloke to keep the ball out of goal but what he discovered was also a player with a first-class football mind, crammed full of intelligence and insight with the wherewithal to convey his findings.
The visit of Chelsea to the Emirates tomorrow shifts Cech to centre stage. Having been relegated to the bench at Stamford Bridge to accommodate Thibaut Courtois, Cech presented Wenger with an opportunity he simply could not pass up, despite having a keeper in David Ospina, whom he rates highly.
“I didn’t know what kind of shape he was in physically because he hadn’t played. When I met him I was quickly reassured of his desire to do well and his motivation,” Wenger said. “I didn’t know how much he could still produce physically. He hadn’t played and was battling a drop in physical aptitude. But I knew the potential was exceptional having played against him 11 years in the Premier League.
“It was a question of physically can he still do it? It was a very, very difficult decision for me because I rate highly Ospina. I have a high opinion of him. Ospina is a keeper who, in my opinion, is underrated, especially in England. But [signing Cech] was maybe one of the few opportunities to say, ‘OK, this is an obvious [transfer]. If I don’t do this, it would have been a mistake I think’.”
Wenger is buoyed by the return of Alexis Sanchez for the first time since November and the availability of Mesut Özil after missing the 0-0 draw against Stoke with a toe injury. Despite Chelsea’s uncharacteristic fall this season, Wenger does not see a diminished opponent, a team he has not beaten in the Premier League in their past eight meetings.
While the availability of Sanchez and Özil would benefit any side, letting off flares up the pitch has not been Wenger’s problem. Inspiring confidence and belief between the posts has been his Achilles heel. Not any more.
“He has a calming presence, he communicates well, anticipates well, sees what is coming. He is a kind of coach,” Wenger said of Cech. “The best position to be a coach is the goalkeeper because he doesn’t move, and he sees everything. He is the camera behind the team.”
John Terry estimated Cech to be worth at least 15 extra points a season to Chelsea. Wenger is not inclined to say. It is enough that he is on the same side. “You cannot measure it. But you know one thing: you need a top-class goalkeeper. I have said many times that it is an underrated position. And you need a top-class goalkeeper to do well.”
Though Leicester, at home to Stoke, and Manchester City, away at West Ham, face awkward assignments, Arsenal probably have to win to maintain the hold they have on the top of the table courtesy of goal difference.
Wenger is minded to see the draws at Liverpool and Stoke in a positive light but, in this season of unremitting inconsistency, those dropped points will hurt if the winless spell is extended. It is self- evident that the opportunity before Arsenal represents their best chance of winning the title since they last lifted it 12 years ago.
While the evidence thus far this season suggests Leicester are worthy contenders, history tells us that City constitute the greater threat. But Arsenal are the only one of the top three teams to boast a player with a 2015 Premier League medal. That man is, of course, none other than Cech.
It would be some achievement, one observer pointed out, were Cech to claim title victories in successive seasons with different teams. Again Wenger wouldn’t bite. “Look, it’s a bit early to talk about that. To win one championship is remarkable. You should play one to see that it is not easy.”Reuse content