Arsenal Goalkeeper Petr Cech Causes a Stir
By Sam Limbert
With the arrival of a new head coach and the start of the new season, I was very excited going to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. The stadium was full again, the atmosphere felt fresh and there was genuine intrigue as to how Arsenal were going to play. Unfortunately, as soon as the game started there was a fairly severe reality check.
Manchester City were a team at complete ease with their system and tactics whereas Arsenal were at the start of the process, with the gap between the teams highlighting how much work needs to be done by Unai Emery. Patience will be required.
Given there weren’t many opportunities in the match to see how Arsenal’s attack will shape up under the new manager, a lot of the post-match discussion has centered around the team playing out from the back. This was the clearest ‘new’ thing Arsenal were trying and it wasn’t without its teething problems as Petr Cech almost scored an own goal that would have broken the internet with gifs, memes and retweets.
Manchester City were arguably the worst team in the league against which to try and play this new style as Pep Guardiola’s team are suited to pressing high up the pitch, so a lot of the time it felt like the Gunners were playing in the hands of the opposition. The side of the fan brain that expects the worse came the fore as there was a palpative sense of nervousness as soon as another goal kick was played to one of the centre-backs, with a long goal kick being cheered near the end of the first half.
This is where the patience is required from supporters. I didn’t enjoy watching the team almost shoot themselves in the foot with the passing around the back, but having made the changes in the coaching staff over the summer, there are likely to be embarrassing mistakes as the team adapt to new ways of thinking.
In a world where social media judgement is instantaneous, it seems strangely appropriate that an Arsenal player was involved in a bit of a social media storm when we need to take the longer-term view. Petr Cech is one of the last players from the squad I’d have suspected to be involved in calling out others on Twitter, but as someone who comes across as a principled man (despite having played for Chelsea under Mourinho!), I don’t blame him to responding to Bayer Leverkusen’s attempts at banter.
The goalkeeper has been one of the major points of discussion after the game and some fans and pundits have been very quick to write off Cech. The reality is that, for all of his experience in the game, he is being asked to play a style of football that he hasn’t done before in his career.
This is where I hope there has been some joined-up thinking between the Head Coach and the Head of Recruitment. If Unai Emery was clear that he was going to play out from the back in this style, then he needed a goalkeeper well equipped to do that. Bernd Leno may well be that guy in the future, but if he isn’t deemed ready to start a Premier League game ahead of the more experienced option in Cech, then we have to trust the judgement of the coaching staff.
For all of the criticism of Cech last season, he still had some very good games and remains an excellent goalkeeper. He’s the best Arsenal have got in terms of the fundamentals of goalkeeping, but the expectations on players in that position are changing.
Cech will start again on Sunday, and I think that’s the right decision. Despite the money spent on Leno, I still had a gut feeling that Cech would start the season as the number one. While plenty of changes were required and have been made in the squad, it makes sense for any new manager to have some experienced players to rely on to help the transition between eras and help Unai Emery’s own adaptation into the Premier League. With Laurent Koscielny out injured, Cech’s leadership, both as one of the five captains below the Frenchman and to help organise the defence, will have worked in his favour in Emery’s selection.
In the long term, I expect Leno to replace Cech as the number one, and that could happen later this season if he does well in the Europa League and cup competitions. But for the moment Unai Emery has understandably opted for a safer pair of hands, albeit not necessarily a safer pair of feet.