When rumours surfaced regarding Petr Čech’s impending departure from Chelsea it was unsurprising, and genuinely sad.
The manner was unfortunate given the circumstances, especially because a player of his quality should be playing week in, week out.
But with the emergence of Thibaut Courtois as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, being ten years his junior, Petr was always eventually going to be displaced in the pecking order as first-choice in west London.
Not particularly because his performance level dipped: he remained consistent and professional, even staying a year after he admitted considering leaving the club. But, ultimately, he needed to be playing regular football at a competitive level and Chelsea could no longer guarantee him that.
When he was linked with Arsenal, I was surprised. Not only because he’s such a good goalkeeper, but also given the fact that the two clubs are such fierce rivals.
Naturally, a player of his stature and thanks to the legacy he’s created for himself at Stamford Bridge, it was fitting that he was able to dictate where he wanted to go.
A respectful, but also a costly decision made on Chelsea’s behalf at the end of the campaign. Refusing to believe the media hype until he’d been pictured with the shirt and a beaming smile, it actually started to settle into my mind that he was an Arsenal player during the pre-season tour of Asia.
Even though the fixtures were not competitive, you could tell he was already oozing confidence out of a side heavily criticised for their struggles defensively over the past few years.
You could also argue that we’ve not had a world-class goalkeeper since the legendary figure of Jens Lehmann departed in 2008. Manuel Almunia, Vito Mannone, Lukasz Fabianski and David Ospina have all tried to stake their claim for the number one jersey on a permanent basis but to no avail.
The closest to doing so, has been Wojciech Szczesny. The 25-year-old is currently on-loan at Serie A side Roma, and even though he is undoubtedly a good goalkeeper, he has a frustrating tendency to make mistakes, that he really shouldn’t be making if he’s to justify his inclusion in the team every week.
Errors in judgment and momentarily lapses in concentration have clouded fans and critics opinions on him. At 25 he’s still maturing as a goalkeeper, but time will tell if the club can reap the rewards.
Čech, meanwhile, is the complete package. At 33, he’s still got a few years left to perform at the highest level – considering a goalkeeper’s career span is much wider than an outfield player on average.
As well as that, he has much more experience, not least in big pressure situations too. Having made over 100 appearances in European competition for the Blues – Europa League and Champions League combined – over his ten-year spell there, he’s proven his quality on a number of occasions.
What I also find ironic, is the fact that seemingly everyone in the media was quick to launch a scathing attack on him after his League debut for the club. Admittedly, it was a forgettable way to kickstart your tenure at a new club but even so, they are more reluctant to report when he does well.
John Terry’s comments back in June, have already been proven correct. He said, matter-of-factly, that his presence alone within the squad will win Arsenal fifteen points a season.
Twelve competitive games later, he’s arguably already won the side eight points.
First, his excellent display against Liverpool. Leaving plenty of players in awe he made a series of important stops, especially in the first-half, to help his side when they needed it most during a relentless wave of counter-attacks. If not for him, they’d have certainly lost the match, but came away with a hard-fought point.
Then, he played a part in the enthralling 5-2 away victory over Leicester. Although neither of their goals were his fault, at 4-1 up, Claudio Ranieri’s men went on the charge in search of a way back into the match.
They grabbed one goal, but it could have easily been two or three more. Čech remained confident and commanded his area well, especially to keep out Riyad Mahrez and stop Jamie Vardy netting a hat-trick with his quick reactions and smart saves allowing the momentum to shift back into Arsenal’s favour.
In the build-up to the clash against Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, plenty of headlines and stories were revolving around one man: Robert Lewandowski. The Polish forward has been enjoying some red-hot form of late, but even he was unable to break down Arsenal’s defence – because of Čech.
Constantly alert and aware, he was able to thwart Bayern’s best efforts, and his experience was crucial in helping the Gunners secure all three points along with a well-earned clean sheet.
Last but not least, a tough fixture against Everton. Arsenal, who love to give themselves unneeded pressure, could and probably should have sealed the victory over Roberto Martinez’ men with time to spare. But with the scoreline staying the same throughout the second-half, it allowed the visitors hope that they could actually snatch something from the match itself.
They nearly did. Lukaku’s headed effort kissed the crossbar, Barkley came close, but Gerard Deulofeu’s one-on-one opportunity should have levelled proceedings.
Čech, making himself big and closing down the angles for Deulofeu to strike, dived quickly to his left to parry away the Spaniard’s effort, which was in-line with the penalty spot and relatively close towards goal.
If Szczesny was in the same position, I wouldn’t be as confident that he’d have made the save. It’s saves like these which just reiterate how good Čech is, and how his arrival has helped improve the team.
Plenty of people have criticised Arsène Wenger for not signing any outfield players in the summer but, if he continues to make one world-class acquisition like Petr every window, I highly doubt anyone will be complaining for long.
Similar to Mesut Özil, Čech goes about his business quietly but with efficiency too. Refreshing to see, it’s no wonder Arsenal have improved defensively when they have such a towering presence as their last line of defence.