“I always said I wanted him [Cech] to stay.” — Jose Mourinho.
When Chelsea manager Mourinho quoted the above words earlier this summer after Petr Cech’s Arsenal move, he put further gloss on the fact Chelsea were letting go one of the best goalkeepers in the business. That Arsenal have more points this season than at the same stage last term can be attributed to Cech’s presence in goal.
How Chelsea have missed the big Czech this season in evident in their results. In his 11 starts since Thibaut Courtois suffered an injury setback in August, Cech’s replacement at Chelsea, Asmir Begovic, has let in 14 goals. In the same period at Arsenal, Cech has conceded only eight goals, three of which came in midweek’s League Cup loss to Sheffield Wednesday where Arsenal played a second-string back line.
Data courtesy of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Official Player Rating Index of the Barclays Premier League
That Cech’s arrival has coincided with Arsenal’s good run of form is no surprise; the Gunners are four points better off than at the same stage last season, and the 33-year-old has been one of the signings of the season. Cech is leading the stats for goalkeepers this season; his eight goals conceded have come at the expense of almost 5 shots saved, and averages better than his rival goalkeepers at other title-challenging clubs.
Manchester City’s Joe Hart has conceded the least number of goals this season among goalkeepers at the top clubs, but he is far more leakier than Cech. The England number one has made 3.2 saves per goal conceded, although his rate of 202.5 minutes per goal conceded is considerably better than Cech’s 112.5 minutes. Another interesting revelation is who is the better goalkeeper at Manchester United, another of Arsenal and Cech’s title rivals.
Sergio Romero was the first choice at the start of the season before the David De Gea transfer situation cooled, but according to the stats men, the Argentine has a better saves per goal average than De Gea, and has also conceded less, although De Gea has played more games.
A thing of note is the fact De Gea has had more saves to make per game than Romero, a sign that the Manchester United defence has been taking things for granted ever since De Gea returned to the side after missing the first four league games. The Spaniard has had to make three saves per game compared to Romero’s 1.75 per game.
Coming back to Cech, the Arsenal shot-stopper has also made the second highest number of saves this season among the top ten goalkeepers behind only Stoke City’s Jack Butland. It is hard to envisage Arsenal wouldn’t have conceded more goals without Cech between the posts. His experience, leadership and calming influence has been instrumental in the Gunners’ solid start, leading to Arsenal conceding the lowest number of goals this season thus far.
While many were quick to lambaste Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s policy of not buying enough players this summer to turn Arsenal into clear title favourites, at least the Frenchman deserves his just deserts for seemingly putting an end to what has been Arsenal’s problem position of the goalkeeper ever since David Seaman left the club in 2003. That small change could turn out to be the key to Arsenal winning their first title in over a decade.