Petr Cech could be Arsenal's game changer
Arsenal's dressing-room still sometimes lacks a certain steel and know-how, but luckily for Arsene Wenger one player with those qualities is available in summer
Dave Mackay was 34 when he joined Derby County. Brian Clough called him his greatest ever signing.
Not just for what he did on the pitch but for the influence he had on the others players. MacKay, who passed away last month, had been a serial winner of trophies with Hearts and then Tottenham before the three years he spent with Clough from 1968 until 1971.
Clough regarded him as the ‘game-changer’ for Derby County in their remarkable rise from League Two to champions of England. It is possible to make a similar case for Eric Cantona when he joined Manchester United from Leeds United in 1992.
Arsenal are a club that still find themselves in search of that one game-changing addition.
Yes, Arsene Wenger has now constructed a very fine squad since the team of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri disbanded.
They may even finish second this season and that would certainly represent progress. But it would still also leave questions. Will they ever produce over an entire season? Can they really do it when it matters most?
Given how close they came to losing against both Wigan and Hull at Wembley, their win in the FA Cup last year provided only a qualified answer. It certainly did not convince Wenger's sceptics. That was evident earlier this season when The Emirates Stadium seemed regularly on the brink of turning against its team and manager.
It is 10 years since Arsenal finished in the top two. The club are clearly now on the right track but, even if they do finish second behind Chelsea and also retain the FA Cup, Wenger must surely still lift either the Premier League or Champions League over the following two seasons of his contract to win full vindication from most Arsenal fans.
Perhaps it is just possible with the current squad but, even amid this current run of 21 wins in 26 matches, the home defeat against Monaco was a reminder of familiar frailties when it matters most. The dressing-room still sometimes lacks a certain steel and know-how. The good news is that a player with those qualities in abundance will almost certainly be available this summer.
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech is not your usual Wenger signing. He is 32 but still rated by Jose Mourinho among the best three goalkeepers in the world. Even with one season remaining on his contract, that means a big transfer fee. Probably in excess of £10 million. Cech would clearly also expect rather more security than Wenger’s usual one year deals for the over 30s.
In normal circumstances, it would be pretty much unthinkable to suppose that Mourinho would do business with Arsenal for such a valued player. The catch is that Mourinho appears to have made a promise to Cech. See out this season without fuss alongside Thibaut Courtois and then be granted the move of your choice in the summer.
On Friday, Mourinho said that Cech was “not a player” but “an institution.” He added: “With institutions, you have to deal with things in a different manner. I think he won the right to be part of a discussion and a decision. He deserves a special perspective.”
It was not difficult to read between the lines. Leaving aside the question of whether Mourinho would really maintain such a generous stance when it comes to the crunch this summer, it leaves the ball firmly in Wenger’s court.
Will he keep faith in Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina? Or does he match Chelsea’s asking price and then try to convince Cech?
The London location allied to the wider potential in the squad will surely make Arsenal a most attractive proposition. From Wenger’s side, the arrival of an experienced new goalkeeper would clearly also put a few noses out of joint. But that is not necessarily such a bad thing.
Cech would be likely to want his goalkeeping coach, Christophe Lollichon, to follow in some sort of capacity. Wenger will probably also consider whether it would be unfair to his current goalkeepers. It would arguably be unfair on Ospina but it would probably actually help Szczesny. His only consideration should be whether it would help Arsenal win the Premier League again, and the wider impact could be transformative.
Cech is not just a brilliant goalkeeper but also a pure winner. We have seen that regularly in how he almost always produces his very performances on the biggest of occasions. His presence and experience would surely also rub off on the rest of the Arsenal team.
At the age of 32, the offer of a three-year contract would not be such a risk. Like Mackay at Derby and Cantona at United, Cech could be the game-changer this summer for Arsenal.