Petr Cech believes Arsenal only 'little details' away from catching Chelsea
The gap both in head-to-head results and silverware might amount to a chasm but, ask Petr Cech for the actual difference between Chelsea and Arsenal during these past 11 years, and his response is instructive.
“Little details,” he says. It is an assessment that helps explain Cech’s decision to make the controversial eight mile move from Stamford Bridge to the Emirates and has evidently been only strengthened during a week in Singapore with his new team-mates.
Far from finding a dressing-room full of brittle characters, Cech says that he identified numerous similarities with a Chelsea squad that has become synonymous with winning following a period of nine more trophies, including four Premier League titles, than Arsenal.
“There are a lot of things in common,” says Cech. “What I’ve found is a group of players who work very hard and are focussed on what they are doing on the pitch to get ready. I’ve found the team spirit quite extraordinary. Everybody pulls in the same direction, which is why I believe we will have a successful season.”
So what explains that past record? Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho. Chelsea lead Arsenal 12-5 in the head-to-heads that Cech played. He must surely have the inside track on how to exploit Arsenal’s weaknesses? “If you have a game with two big teams it’s decided by the little details,” says Cech.
“In all those games Chelsea were on top we managed the little details better. I hope to be on the winning side again. It’s as simple as that. I play football to win games.
“We have a good balance. We have players with a lot of experience, who have won the World Cup for example, and young players who want to prove their point and play as much as possible. We have experienced players and hungry players so that balance gives us an advantage.”
Cech clearly now falls into both the “experienced” and “hungry” category and his presence will surely also represent one of those all-important small details to which he refers. As Arsenal and Chelsea negotiated, it was John Terry, after all, who intervened to predict that his old team-mate would make a difference of between 12 and 15 points next season.
Cech shrugs at Terry’s assessment but there is no attempt to dispute that estimate. “John’s known me a long time so he knows what I can offer to the team,” he says.
One difference for Cech will be the near guarantee of managerial stability at Arsenal after experiencing nine different voices in the dugout during his time at Chelsea. Ivan Gazidis, the Arsenal chief executive, even joked on Monday that the cryo-chamber at Arsenal's training ground should hopefully preserve Wenger for even longer.
“It depends on how much success you’re having,” says Cech.
“If you take the situations at Man United and Arsenal with Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger they were very successful because of two great managers. At Chelsea unfortunately there were changes all the time, but we were still winning trophies. It’s hard to say which way is better. If you look at what Chelsea have won over the last 11 years you can’t really argue with what they’ve done. Stability is generally a much better solution,but it’s hard to achieve. Arsenal are very lucky to have had a manager with such qualities for such a long time.
“Everything depends on how well we do on the pitch. We have to compete with the strongest teams. There are a lot of talented players in our team, but the real strength lies in our numbers. This squad has a number of players ready to compete for every position, and we will need them all during the course of the season.”
Cech includes the goalkeepers in that assessment and, while it is obvious that he will start the season as first-choice, he is adamant that no guarantees have been sought or given. “The way I work is that I do my best every day to make sure that the boss has no other option but to put me in the team,” says Cech. It was not enough last summer to prevent Mourinho turning to Thibaut Courtois, a decision that has ultimately been the catalyst for one of the most unlikely transfers in Premier League history. “I had to accept it,” says Cech. “He’s the boss and can choose who he likes to play in every game. Mourinho made his decision, which gave me a decision to make, which is why I’ve come to Arsenal.
“Sometimes life brings difficult moments and situations where you need to forget about feelings and emotions, and you need to decide what is right. I did what I thought was the right thing for me to do, as I’m full of motivation and ambition to continue to compete at the highest level. It’s not the time for me to be happy in a back-up role just yet.”