This story first appeared in the September edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
Name: Petr Cech Position: Goalkeeper Squad Number: 33 Nationality: Czech Born: Pilsen, Czech Republic, May 20, 1982 Joined Arsenal: from Chelsea on June 29, 2015 Previous clubs: Chmel Blsany, Sparta Prague, Rennes, Chelsea Arsenal debut: v Chelsea (n) Community Shield, August 2, 2015 (won 1-0) Arsenal honours: Community Shield 2015 Czech Republic caps: 124 Twitter: @PetrCech
David Seaman's numbers speak for themselves. During a 13-year stay in north London, ‘Safe Hands’ amassed 564 appearances for the club, winning nine major trophies and keeping more clean sheets - 237 - than any keeper in Arsenal history.
Over half of those - 138 in fact - came in the Premier League, making him second in the list of shutouts achieved at a single club, behind Petr Cech’s 162 with Chelsea.
Of course Petr is now very much an Arsenal player, winning the Golden Glove award in his first season at the club (with 16 league clean sheets) and breaking the record for Premier League clean sheets when keeping his 170th against Bournemouth last December. It’s clear that Czech Republic’s most capped player of all time is still at the peak of his powers, a view shared by David.
“We’ve got a quality goalkeeper, one who has been there and done it,” he explained to the Arsenal Magazine. “Petr is a guy that gets respect when he walks into the dressing room. He doesn’t have to demand it or show it, he gets respect from other players because of what he’s achieved in the game.
“He doesn’t make flash saves. If the save is there to be made, he will make it. He won’t make it look good just for the sake of it, he doesn’t have to prove himself by trying to make saves look flash. Some goalkeepers will punch the ball away when they should catch it, because it looks more flash on TV. Petr isn’t like that, he just seems to get on with it and he brings a calmness to his defenders.
“It’s a massive help for defenders when they know they have someone behind them that is not going to be making mistakes and charging out for crosses when he shouldn’t be going for them. His decision-making is brilliant. He knows when he should come up a bit and come for crosses.
“He always seems to get it right. That comes with all the experience he has got. You have to build that by playing in games and having that big-match experience too. He can pass it on in the dressing room so you can see players that are maybe a bit nervous before a game and he will have a little word with them. It’s that sort of valuable impact that he brings to the squad.”
David only retired 12 years ago, but he recognises that football has changed a lot since he stopped playing. “It’s got faster and faster. The players are supremely fit now and the ball has changed as well. The ball has changed a lot. It’s got lighter, it’s got faster and it moves more, which makes things more difficult. The key thing then is just to put in as much work on the training ground as possible, to get used to how they fly.
“The balls are different, but I think the main thing is now the players are just so much fitter which then makes the game so much faster. You have people like Manuel Neuer, who has taken the sweeper keeper to new extremes. I was doing it at Euro 96 but he’s really taken that on. Football is totally about possession now, even for goalkeepers, and that’s one difference from when I stopped playing.”
David had to deal with a seismic change during his playing days too, when the backpass rule was introduced in 1992. “I remember when the backpass rule came in and I nearly had a heart attack! It was hard to adapt for us, but now goalkeepers are taught to control it and distribute it with both feet. You see a lot of goalkeepers are really happy kicking it with their weaker foot while, with some of the other goalkeepers, you can’t tell which is their weaker foot.
“When the rule came in, first of all, you went to the safety route. If someone passed it back to you, you just booted it. You just had to make sure you got good contact on it.
“Then you develop that and you get a bit more confident with the ball so you try to control it, which can lead to mistakes as well. You just progress from there, so the more you do it the better you get at it. You learn who to pass the ball, where the find players and when players are closing you down you have to move it a little faster.
“It was just about practising it on the training ground. We did that with Bob Wilson, it was always part of our warm up - you’d take one or two touches, work on your distribution, your control and passing with either foot. My left foot wasn’t designed for kicking, it was designed for standing on! But coming back to Petr, his distribution has also impressed me.”
Signing from Chelsea June 29, 2015 The signing of Petr was a major coup when it was announced last summer. In the week before the deal was done, Chelsea captain John Terry had said, “He is going to be sorely missed. He will improve whatever team he goes to,” and with particular reference to the rumours that the Czech goalkeeper was going to join Arsenal Terry added: “That will strengthen them for sure. He will save them 12 to 15 points a season.” '
Big Pete' himself was excited as he became the first player to leave Chelsea for Arsenal since William Gallas in 2006. “I can't wait to join up for pre-season,” he said. “I have the same commitment to football, the same motivation and the same hunger for success as I had at the beginning of my career, and I love the challenges brought by the top quality players you face while playing in the Premier League. When Arsène Wenger spoke to me about his ambitions for this club, and how he saw me as part of this team, the decision was clear.”
It was clear what Arsenal were getting: a leader who had won multiple club and individual honours, including three Premier League Golden Glove awards, during 11 years at the Blues. As Wenger said, “He has proven over many seasons that he is one of the outstanding keepers in the world and he will add great strength to our squad.”
Winning debut August 2, 2015From Arsenal’s perspective, it was obviously meant to be – Petr made his competitive debut for the club in the Community Shield at Wembley, and kept a clean sheet as his new club beat his old one thanks to a stunning first-half strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
In truth the keeper didn’t have a lot to do, with Ramires and Eden Hazard sending Chelsea’s best efforts over the bar, but he was focused, calm and authoritative before finally being called into action to make a brilliant save from Oscar’s free kick with 20 minutes remaining – at which point Gunners fans got their first real glimpse of just what the club had signed.
And that was that as Arsenal lifted the shield for a second successive season. In fact it was Petr’s third trophy of a packed and successful pre-season. He had made his first appearance for Arsenal in the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy in Singapore, playing the full 90 minutes as the Gunners completed an impressive 3-1 win over Everton to lift their first trophy of the summer. And more silverware followed at the Emirates Cup when, having sat out the 6-0 thumping of Lyon, Petr returned between the posts for the trickier 1-0 win over Wolfsburg that secured the trophy for the home side. Petr's Arsenal career was underway in style.
First clean sheet August 24, 2015 Petr's first clean sheet for Arsenal came in one of the most exciting 0-0 draws you are ever likely to see, as an attack-minded Liverpool team matched the Gunners blow for blow in front of an enthralled Emirates Stadium crowd.
In truth Arsenal had made an unconvincing start to the season after such a successful summer, losing 2-0 at home to West Ham United (with Petr shouldering the blame by tweeting, “First game like this was not in the script – mistake and no points”) before battling to a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace. Liverpool, meanwhile, had won their first two games 1-0, against Stoke City and Bournemouth, thanks to goals from Philippe Coutinho and new boy Christian Benteke – and it was these two who would bring out the best in the Czech keeper during a pulsating first half.
The visitors had already hit the bar and Aaron Ramsey had seen a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside when Cech made an incredible reaction save low down to deny Benteke from six yards out, before reacting again to tip a fierce Coutinho drive onto the post. Ultimately, whether it was two points dropped or one point saved, the new keeper had shown why Arsenal signed him.
Clean sheet record breaker December 28, 2015 Arsenal hit back from a disappointing Boxing Day defeat at Southampton with a victory over Bournemouth that was far more emphatic than the 2-0 scoreline suggested. At one end of the pitch Mesut Ozil was on fire, setting up Gabriel’s opener, scoring himself and setting a new Premier League record by creating nine clear goalscoring chances in one game, but at the other end there was perhaps an even more impressive – and more enduring – piece of history in the making.
The clean sheet was the 170th of Petr’s incredible Premier League career, moving him one clear of the record he had shared with David James since the 2-0 win at Aston Villa on December 13. It was his eighth in the league for Arsenal and his 12th of the season in total – and it was still 2015. Ozil would break his own record for chances created weeks later by teeing up 10 opportunities for team-mates in the 0-0 draw against Southampton. Petr needed only one more game to extend his own clean sheet record as the Gunners beat Newcastle United 1-0 on January 2. There was no stopping the man whose job was stopping goals.
Golden Glove winner May 15, 2016 The Gunners’ 4-0 win over Aston Villa on the final day of the season was bittersweet – not enough to stop Leicester City from lifting the Premier League trophy, enough to pip Tottenham Hostpur for the runners-up spot – but for Petr Cech there was a personal satisfaction at the end of his first season in north London: five days short of his 34th birthday, the Czech shot-stopper claimed the Premier League Golden Glove for the fourth time by keeping his 16th clean sheet of the season.
He won’t have many easier. Relegated Villa just wanted the season to end, and drew ironic cheers from their own fans when Petr made a routine save on 16 minutes. Jordan Ayew forced him into a slightly more acrobatic effort on 66 minutes, but all the action was at the other end as Arsenal looked to build on their early 1-0 lead, and Petr only had to watch as Olivier Giroud completed his hat-trick and Mark Bunn scored an injury-time own goal from Mikel Arteta’s strike that completed the campaign in emphatic style.
The honour added to his wins in 2004/05, when he kept a Premier League record 24 clean sheets, 2009/10 (17, shared with Liverpool’s Pepe Reina) and 2013/14 (16, shared with a certain Wojciech Szczesny). And you wouldn’t bet against him making it five.
The boss' verdict...
On his qualities… He has brought his experience, his calmness and his leadership as well. He has been good and highly focused. Petr Cech has done it all, so he is someone who gives you an aura, a charisma that is always important in the big games for the players. You always look around you in the dressing room before a big game and you think, 'Are we strong enough?' And these kind of faces help you to believe it. Also in the big games, the number of shots on target shrinks. But then the one save can be the difference in the end result.
His off the pitch qualities…I met him before I signed him and we had a long discussion about the game and the job and his position, and I was deeply impressed by his knowledge, by his professionalism, by his detailed knowledge. So since I have not been surprised, because I got the whole package in one go. The importance of a great goalkeeper… There is no history of teams winning things without having a great goalkeeper.
I’m now 30 years in the job and as I said the other day you learn over the years that the goalkeeper is the most underrated position in football - and maybe the most vital one for winning things. For example when Spain won the 2010 World Cup, in every game Iker Casillas saved a one-on-one when it was 0-0 or 1-0, or saved a decisive ball. Even in the final against Arjen Robben - and instead of being 1-0 down you are 0-0. And that at the end of the day makes the difference.
The verdict from...
Michal Petrak, Czech football journalist
I’ve followed Petr’s career since he broke into the Chmel Blsany first team. I remember watching him at the beginning and he made an impression from the very start. He was a young goalkeeper at the time, about 19 or 20, and the impression I got of him was that he already looked very experienced at that young age. His presence was very calming for the defence and he seemed unfazed by playing in the top division at such a young age.
That showed – he didn’t make any real mistakes that young goalkeepers usually do, like missing crosses or long-range shots. From the very beginning you could sense that he was something special. Everyone knew he was going to become one of the elite goalkeepers in world football.
Having said that, the experience that Petr has gained with age has certainly helped him. I believe he’s more of a leader now than he was at the start. He’s become much more vocal and the way in which he organises his defence has certainly improved through the years too.
I think Petr’s career path is proof of his intelligence. He went to Blsany to be a No 1, and then went back to Sparta Prague. The move to Rennes was important too because it meant he could get used to playing and living in a foreign country before making the big step to England.
Petr’s nickname here in the Czech Republic is ‘Mr Perfect’ because he’s never had any problems off the pitch. He’s special in that you can talk to him about anything and he will have a basic knowledge of the subject.
He’s the sort of person that you could discuss international politics with and he’d be able to hold a decent conversation about it. He speaks fluent Spanish and speaks really good French too. In fact, at the Euros this summer, he gave a speech to the fans that had watched the national team train in Tours.
Some of his team-mates have actually called him ‘Mr Google’ in the past because he can discuss anything!
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