Petr Cech is doing everything to ensure he should be Arsenal's No. 1
If Arsenal's task as a club this summer is one of reinvention, then it is a task that extends into the playing staff, too. If Arsenal are trying to re-evaluate their approach under a new head coach, it also stands to reason that senior figures from the previous regime will be doing the same. None seem to have taken this mission quite as literally as Petr Cech.
Arsenal's project on a macro level is to rebuild after the departure of Arsene Wenger: come back a stronger and more formidable proposition as they look to restore their status among the elite. It is a project Cech has copied on a micro level judging by images of the keeper during preseason training that caused a minor stir, his bulging biceps and heaving torso seemingly evidence of a summer spent in the gym.
It is not just Cech's physical dimensions that appear to have altered, but his attributes, too. A man who famously faced 15 penalties without making a single save for Arsenal before ending that miserable run against Watford in May has now kept out three in a week: one in a shootout in the friendly against Atletico Madrid and another two against Chelsea, saving from Alvaro Morata in normal time and then denying Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the shootout.
All the normal caveats apply about the lack of competitive intensity in preseason friendlies but it was impossible to think it meant absolutely nothing to Cech when, facing Loftus-Cheek, he psyched the Chelsea midfielder out with a shimmy during his run-up and then made an easy stop with a limb decorated with the captain's armband. If nothing else, after seeing £22 million signing Bernd Leno start both matches in the preseason tour of Singapore, it was a reminder that Cech is no spent force. Far from it.
Cech, of course, has been here before. Three years ago, he left Chelsea after it became apparent he had lost his protected status to a keeper 10 years his junior in Thibaut Courtois. Dress up his move to Arsenal any way you like but in truth it was a demotion down the league table. This summer, something similar threatens to happen. Cech, now 36, has seen Arsenal recruit a 26-year-old ostensibly to take his place again. He does not seem keen to surrender it.
The issue of who Unai Emery installs as No. 1 is one of the great unknowns of Arsenal's upcoming season. The final formulation of the attack, midfield and defence are all uncertain but nothing is quite as fundamental as alighting on a first-choice keeper. Wenger seemed to waver at the end of last season as David Ospina started taking Premier League minutes, as well as retaining his place for the two legs of the Europa League semifinal against Atletico. But the Colombia international is said to be well on the way to Besiktas, meaning it will be Bernd Leno or Cech trusted between the posts.
The sensation of the new can be overwhelming in football. Everyone likes to see shiny new signings in action: just look at how supporters have taken to Matteo Guendouzi following his performances during the summer. But in Cech's case, conservatism could -- and should -- win out.
Cech's Arsenal career hasn't been pockmarked by many extreme highs or lows. It has been unspectacular on the pitch even as Cech has developed into an important voice off it. And maybe, at a time of revolution elsewhere in the system, that is what Arsenal need at the start of the season. It is a point Cech made himself when discussing the difficulties presented to new goalkeepers arriving in England.
"There are so many things that a goalkeeper coming to the Premier League has not experienced in a different league," he said in a clear message to Leno. "Obviously you have the physicality and the way the game is played in the Premier League. The goalkeeper is not as protected as in Europe or different leagues."
Even a goalkeeper as abundantly talented as David De Gea struggled with this side of the game following his arrival in England in 2011. Leno is six years older than De Gea was when he swapped Atleti for Manchester United, but Cech has a further decade on his new rival and that extra experience could count for a lot.
As no less an authority than David Seaman said recently when advocating for Cech: "Obviously he is getting older but your game adapts, that is what I found. You might not be as sharp as what you used to be but your experience gets you into the right positions."
Cech has more experience than any other goalkeeper in England and this summer he has responded in the right way to the challenge of Leno's arrival. In a summer of transformation, a constant between the sticks could be an asset to Emery in the opening weeks of the season.