The sight of Petr Cech in an Arsenal goalkeeper’s top is one that will take some getting used to this season. The man is a Chelsea icon and was a core component of the Roman Abramovich era, having helped to drive the club to an unprecedented decade of high-level success. His move to North London genuinely feels like a watershed moment for Arsenal, who haven’t had a world class goalkeeper since Jens Lehmann. How fitting then, that Cech’s debut will take place against his former club at Wembley this Sunday.
As is the toxic combination of football’s tribalism and social media’s instantaneousness, Cech inevitably received some abuse for his transfer over Twitter. However, the majority of rational Chelsea supporters were sympathetic to his departure – the least he deserved after so many years of fine service to the club. In terms of squad selection, Jose Mourinho was left with a catch 22; Cech is simply too good a goalkeeper to sit on the bench but Thibaut Courtois had proved that he was more than ready to step up to Premier League football. Ultimately it was a stroke of good grace from Abramovich that enabled Cech to leave on his own terms and it was out of the manager’s hands.
Cech’s brief time at Arsenal so far has already been eventful. The club have won two pre-seasons trophies – the Barclays Asia Trophy and last weekend’s Emirates Cup. Wojciech Szczesny has gone on loan to AS Roma, leaving no doubt (if there ever was any) that Cech will be Arsenal’s number one this season. It looks like Colombian International David Ospina will now stay on as a second choice and could well take on the role of ‘cup keeper’. Arsenal’s summer so far though has mainly been a case of fine-tuning, with Cech the sole first team addition.
Of course there is only so much to be learnt from the Community Shield, the new season’s traditional curtain-raiser. Back in April, I wrote that beating Mourinho’s Chelsea would cap off a season of improvement for Arsenal. While that game finished 0-0, it is fair to say that the proposition remains the same. Losing the Community Shield would hardly be catastrophic for Arsene Wenger but he has a chance to lay down the gauntlet not just to Chelsea but the other top sides. There was a marked improvement in Arsenal’s performances in big games last season and that must carry forward this year if they are to be considered title contenders.
Elsewhere in the squad, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – two players who Mourinho was keen to squeeze into a deal involving Cech – have had excellent pre-seasons. While both suffered unfortunate injuries last campaign, there have been some justified calls that both players need to step up and contribute more goals. With compatriot Danny Welbeck still out injured and Alexis Sanchez recovering from a busy summer at the Copa America, there will be early opportunities for Walcott and Chamberlain to stake their claims this seasons. Scoring at Wembley would certainly lay down a marker.
As for Chelsea, their transfer activity has been uncharacteristically low-key, mainly because there is little room for improvement. Asmir Begovic is a solid replacement for Cech as a back-up keeper to Courtois, while Radamel Falcao arrives in place of Didier Drogba and as something of a vanity project for Mourinho – if he can’t fix him, who can? The pursuit of John Stones continues, with the England youngster tipped as a long-term successor to John Terry. However, starting the campaign with Terry alongside Gary Cahill wouldn’t be a disaster for Chelsea; the centre-back pairing were immense last season and played a crucial role in claiming the Title.
With Chelsea remaining so strong, it puts Cech’s ambition and Arsenal’s vision into perspective. With a little help from Cech’s compatriot Tomas Rosicky, Wenger has sold that dream to his new keeper. He sees him as his new Lehmann – the man who turned Arsenal from contenders into “Invincibles” in 2003/04. Cech will relish that mantle. Mourinho’s side are the biggest obstacle between Wenger and the Premier League trophy, so this Sunday’s clash is sure to be an entertaining game as well as a good indicator of where exactly the two clubs are at the moment.
HUGO GREENHALGH is co-founder and editor of The False Nine and a contributor to Eurosport and When Saturday Comes. He can be found following his favourite clubs: Arsenal and Dulwich Hamlet. Follow Hugo on Twitter.