Welcome to The Arsenal, Petr Cech. After 11 years with one of most despicable clubs in world football, Petr is now one of us, part of our great club that has the class, tradition, and history his previous employers seriously lack. That said, a small ounce of credit to Roman Abramovich who was true to his word and has allowed Cech to move to the club of his choice, despite the continued whining of Mourinho that he did not approve of the destination. It’s no surprise that one was thanked in Cech’s ‘Letter to the Fans’ while the other was completely omitted.
But enough of them and their loss, and instead let’s have a little more about us and review our first signing of the summer. At the age of 33 players are deemed to be in the twilight of their careers, but not goalkeepers; for them it’s their prime. Having signed a 4 year contract it seems clear to me that’s exactly the view of both Arsene and Cech himself.
Personally I’m sitting on the fence a little with this one. There’s no doubt Petr Cech was the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, and arguably across world football, during the majority of his stay in West London. But in recent years I thought I saw cracks appearing, mistakes that never used to occur, and was therefore not too surprised when Courtois was recalled following his successful loan period at Atletico Madrid.
But that’s the empty half of the glass. The half full part of me knows that no player is perfect, that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and that we’ve signed a goalkeeper with bags of talent, who clearly still has a great hunger for the game, and a resume of vast experience – 4 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, and 1 Europa League to be precise. All very painful successes to watch as an Arsenal fan, but achieved by a player from whom we may now reap the rewards of such experience. A player, dropped and discarded by Mourinho, who is no doubt chomping at the bit to prove he still has what it takes. To have that level of quality and know-how between our sticks could prove invaluable come May.
In addition, for those wanting to make a half full glass and completely full glass, I believe Cech will be the perfect mentor for Wojciech Szczesny. There is so much talent and potential in our Polish stopper, but flaws in his temperament and character appear to be inhibiting his progress, which has not been as great as I imagine Wenger would have hoped, especially in comparison to some of his peers, such as David De Gea.
I have no doubt, however, that Arsene will be hopeful that the professionalism of Cech will have a positive influence on Szczesny, whose warm response to Cech’s arrival was a welcome sight. By the end of Cech’s 4 year contract Wojciech will be 29 years old and, with any luck, perfectly moulded into the truly great Arsenal number one many believe he can be.
So, with Petr Cech seemingly signed to be our number one, and mentor to future hope Wojciech Szczesny, what next for David Ospina? Personally I’ll be surprised if he’s still an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window, even if he was only signed last summer, as I just don’t see him settling for third choice.
Statistically he hasn’t done a great deal wrong. His saves percentage is very good, as is his win ratio. But something has just never felt right for me. I like a goalkeeper to have an aura; a commanding presence, control of his area, marshal the back four, and the ability to make world-class saves out of nowhere. They almost need an air of arrogance, of invincibility about them. I also quite like goalkeepers who can clear the half way line with their goal kick!
Ospina offers none of the above, therefore when selecting Szczesny for the FA Cup final I’m sure a large part of Wenger’s thinking Wojciech’s ability, and instinctive nature, to own his penalty area; to come and claim crosses or to punch them clear. It became very clear, very early, that he would not allow Benteke to be an aerial threat. I’m not convinced Ospina could have done that.
With Szczesny there is of course high risk, as well as high reward, but I think that’s the reason behind Petr Cech. Someone who, like Lehmann before him (and Van der Sar for United), can more than fill the void while Szczesny matures and refines his game to the required level.
Ospina on the other hand is simply a safe option. Real clangers will be few and far between, and he’ll make the saves you’d expect any decent keeper to make for you. But he’ll never produce that moment of magic. In his, albeit short, Arsenal career he has never made a save that made me gasp, which prevented what felt like an inevitable goal. I’ve seen both Cech and Szczesny do that many a time.
I’m certain that, at this point, people will point to Ospina’s fabulous double save for Columbia against Argentina in the recent Copa America. However, even then I was left thinking “Messi should have buried that” as opposed to “wow, what a save”. When a striker does all they can possibly do and yet the keeper still makes the save, that is world-class. I believe Petr Cech has that ability, I believe Szczesny has it too, but I’m not convinced that Ospina does.
I think of goals such as Southampton’s first in the League Cup, Monaco’s first and third goals in the Champions League, and Swansea’s winner towards the end of the league season, and I see fundamental flaws in Ospina. For many these are not seen; these goals were not deemed to be the fault of Ospina. But I see a keeper with a lack of height, a lack of reach, a lack of push and spring in the diving motion. I’m often left wondering “could he have done better?”
Cech or Szczesny, goalkeepers with the extra height, reach, and technique, would, in my opinion, have produced fantastic fingertip saves. Yes their potential rewards may come with real possibilities of risk (especially Szczesny), but I’d rather win by rolling the dice than fall short playing safe.
I’m fully aware that I’m being super critical of Ospina, who is a good goalkeeper; I’m highlighting, and fixating on, the smallest of margins. But the reality is that we’re now in a position to do just that. With the stadium transition complete, and with greater funds available to us, we no longer have to decide between Almunia and Fabianski, or have deputies such as Shaaban, Warmuz, or Mannone. Instead we can now nit-pick between Cech, Szczesny, and Ospina. It’s a fantastic headache for the manager to have, so welcome to The Arsenal, Petr Cech.