Petr Cech takes centre stage as Arsenal return to Wembley

Petr Chech in Arsenal uniformThe 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.

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Hugo avatarHUGO 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.

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Chelsea v Liverpool: Five memorable matches

Chelsea must wish they had the likes of Didier Drogba still at the club

Players like Didier Drogba have lit up this fixture in the past

Liverpool’s title credentials will be placed under scrutiny over the Christmas period with quickfire trips to Manchester City and Chelsea.

In recent years the Reds have been involved in some memorable clashes with the latter of those two challengers in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

Here, Betting Expert has picked out five of the best meetings between the two sides at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea v Liverpool Betting Odds

Chelsea win – 2.00

Draw – 3.30

Liverpool win – 3.40

(All odds from GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Chelsea 4-2 Liverpool, January 1997

The Merseysiders were beaten FA Cup finalists during the previous year, so they would have been hoping to go one better this time around. It appeared that they would cruise into the fourth round when goals from Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore within the opening 21 minutes put them 2-0 up.

The introduction of Mark Hughes as a half-time substitute breathed life into Chelsea, though, as the former Manchester United frontman reduced the arrears five minutes after the restart. Italian Gianfranco Zola then drew the Londoners level, before his compatriot Gianluca Vialli sealed the victory for the hosts with a brace.

Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool, May 2003

Had Chelsea not won this game, their recent history could have been very different. It was a straight shootout on the final day of the Premier League season, with the winner snatching the final Champions League qualification berth. Dubbed ‘the £20 million pound match’, it was the away side that claimed an early lead through Finnish centre-back Sami Hyypia.

Chelsea’s response was instant, with Marcel Desailly heading in a Jesper Gronkjaer cross. The Danish winger then turned scorer in the 26th minute when he curled in from the edge of the area for what would be the winning goal. Later, as the game entered into stoppage time, Steven Gerrard was handed his marching orders for two bookable offences. Had Chelsea fallen short in the race for Europe’s elite tournament, many believe that Roman Abramovich would not have bid for the club.

Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool, April 2008

Having played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Anfield, the two teams reconvened at the Bridge to play for the right to take on Man United in the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow. Didier Drogba looked to have booked Chelsea’s place in the Russian capital with an early strike, but Fernando Torres forced extra-time.

The hosts regained their composure during the additional 30 minutes, with Frank Lampard restoring their lead from the penalty spot after Hyypia had felled Michael Ballack. Drogba then made it 3-1, before Liverpool’s Ryan Babel ensured a tense finish with a strike from distance. Ultimately, it would be no more than a consolation effort.

Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool, April 2009

Twelve months later the teams met in the same competition, albeit at the quarter-final stage. It seemed that Chelsea would ease into the final four, having returned from the opening leg on Merseyside with a 3-1 victory for their efforts. However, Liverpool had not read the script and goals from Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso levelled up the scores on aggregate at half-time.

Chelsea rallied after the restart and actually took the lead courtesy of goals from Drogba, Alex and Lampard. In a match that had started to become more reminiscent of a basketball clash, Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt then scored in quick succession to put Liverpool 4-3 in front, before Lampard rounded off the scoring, sealing a 7-5 aggregate win for Chelsea in the process.

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool, February 2011

Just a week earlier Chelsea had parted with £50 million to land the services of Torres from Liverpool. However, it would be no dream debut for the Spaniard, who was replaced by Salomon Kalou in the 66th minute following a lacklustre display. Just three minutes later, Liverpool midfielder Raul Meireles pounced on a mix-up between Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic to score the only goal of the game.

liam_avatarLIAM APICELLA (liamapicella88) has worked for a number of publications on a freelance basis, including Footy Matters, Football Italiano and the Ibiza Paper. He is currently the features editor and reporter for Sports Mole.