Sunday 18 March 2018

Arsenal are in dire need of a truly great - and giant - goalkeeper - Petr Cech is the obvious answer

Arsene Wenger must now realise that signing a top-class, imposing keeper is his top priority - and none would be better than Petr Cech

Chelsea's Petr Cech, pictured, will make a decision on his future this summer after being second choice this season
Chelsea's Petr Cech, pictured, will make a decision on his future this summer after being second choice this season

Jeremy Wilson

There are moments with Arsene Wenger when the expression is more revealing than the actual answer.

He was asked at the start of the month whether Arsenal needed a new goalkeeper and there was a lengthy pause while his mind computed how to handle what is clearly a delicate subject. “Not necessarily,” he finally said.

Two weeks earlier, he had also been asked whether Wojciech Szczesny, his number one for most of the past four years, had a long-term future at the club. There was also a pause. “I hope yes,” he said. “But, at the moment, it is very difficult to answer that question.”

It was then put to him that David Ospina had been the reason for the club’s upturn in form. Wenger, quite rightly, quickly pointed out that the difference in 2015 had been the availability of key outfield players, notably Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny, as well as the emergence of Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin.

He did add that Szczesny was a “great” goalkeeper and that Ospina had done a “fantastic” job but the implications seemed clear enough. At the very least, the situation is under review and it would not be a major surprise if Wenger has already decided that goalkeeper and not holding midfield has become his new transfer priority this summer.

Monday night's defeat to Swansea only reinforced the view that Ospina was a sound replacement for Lukasz Fabianski as back-up in the Premier and Champions League, as well as perhaps first choice in the FA and League Cup, but is not the genuinely world-class presence that virtually every great team has.

Yes, he should have saved Bafetimbi Gomis’s header yet the wider issue is simply whether, at 6ft tall, he has the physical stature of the absolute elite is his position. The history of the Premier League tells us everything we need to know about the importance of a team’s goalkeeper.

Between them, Petr Cech, David Seaman, Edwin van der Sar, Joe Hart, Thibaut Courtois and Peter Schmeichel were regulars in 17 of the title winning teams since 1993.

They all also stand between 6ft 3ins and 6ft 7ins tall. As Brian Clough said when he was questioned by Nottingham Forest directors for signing Peter Shilton in 1977 for a then unthinkable fee of £270,000, “a team with an OK goalkeeper is always looking over its shoulder. I’d have paid almost any price”.

The directors presumably had rather fewer reservations three years, two European Cups, two League Cups and one League title later. If Clough were still alive today, you can also imagine that he would place both Szczesny and Ospina in the “OK” category.

Still only 25, Szczesny might yet fulfil his potential but it is the single most urgent area of his team that Wenger should address this summer to bridge the gap to Chelsea. The great irony is that the perfect answer may come from within the Chelsea dressing-room. It is no secret that Cech will seek a new challenge this summer rather than face another season as understudy to Courtois. His agent has said he has had talks with Besiktas, but remaining in London could yet remain an option.

It is known that he is settled and happy in the English capital. The sense that a gentleman’s agreement has been reached with Chelsea whereby he can join a club of his choice is also clear. It certainly felt like some internal Chelsea politics were being aired on Friday when Mourinho was asked about Cech and, for the first time, made the point that he would rather keep him against his will than join a Premier League rival like Arsenal.

The big caveat, however, was Mourinho’s admission that it was not ultimately his decision. It felt either like the start of a Mourinho bid to stop Cech from joining another Premier League club or, even more intriguingly, a very calculated attempt to distance himself from a decision by owner Roman Abramovich that he cannot support.

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