It’s hard enough for a football club to cope with the decline of one legend over the course of a season, let alone two. While Arsene Wenger’s deepening twilight as a manager has been the subject of hundreds of articles over the last few weeks, less has been written about the deterioration of Petr Cech, the time-worn bedrock of his crumbling team.
One of the most iconic players of the Premier League era, instantly recognisable for his protective headgear and the seemingly elastic reach of his 6’5 frame, Cech will be remembered as a mythical figure among goalkeepers. Having played 494 games for Chelsea over an 11-year period and won four Premier League titles and the Champions League with the Blues, he has added another 110 appearances for Arsenal to his résumé since he moved to north London in 2015. Cech has a record 199 clean sheets in the league in total, 30 more than nearest rival David James, 59 more than David Seaman, 67 more than Edwin van der Saar and 71 more than Peter Schmeichel.
When measured next to the most celebrated Premier League goalkeepers of the past few decades, Cech is streets ahead of everyone for consistency, longevity and sheer excellence. There’s a reason he’s been stuck on 199 clean sheets for his last 11 matches, however, and it’s not just down to the ineptitude and collective dysfunction of Arsenal as a defensive unit.
Cech’s performance against Brighton last weekend was just his latest erratic showing between the sticks, with individual errors becoming more and more noticeable in his game over the last couple of seasons. Both of Brighton’s goals were preventable and Cech admitted as much afterwards, tweeting: “If you want to win a game away of home in the best league in the world your GK can’t concede two goals like I did today… it’s simply not possible… the team fought back but the damage was done.”
Arsenal in for Leno?
Despite their huge admiration for Cech, who left many fans were in awe when he first arrived at the Emirates, Arsenal supporters will be quietly relieved to see the club linked with another goalkeeper. Though the problems with the team are so fundamental at the moment that no one signing will fix them, per se, Cech could certainly do with quality competition and a successor more capable than David Ospina.
According to German tabloid Bild, Arsenal are keen on signing a man often described as being in the Manuel Neuer mould. Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno is also a reported target for Italian league leaders Napoli, with Bild suggesting that “Napoli are serious about Leverkusen’s No.1… but Arsenal also seem to have expressed an interest.” The report suggests that Leno’s current contract runs until 2020, but that he has a buyout clause of around €25m.
That would be a lot more affordable than the sort of prices being quoted for the likes of Jan Oblak, Alisson Becker or Jack Butland, even. Leno is up there with Europe’s best available goalkeepers in terms of his talents, standing joint-third in the Bundesliga standings for clean sheets this season with seven. Still only 26 years old, Leno has made 280 appearances in all competitions for Leverkusen, missing just three league matches in the last seven seasons. Comparisons to Neuer are substantiated by the fact that, according to the official Bundesliga website, he has averaged more touches of the ball and played more passes than any other goalkeeper in the German top flight this term.
Were Arsenal to recruit a replacement for Cech this season, Leno could bring a fresh dynamism at the back in place of a reliability which has faded with age. Leno, too, has consistency and longevity on his side, making him a fitting heir to a goalkeeper who has been an ever-present in the Premier League for the last decade and a half. With the organisation of the back five one of Arsenal’s most pressing concerns going forwards, it may be time for them to consider a future after Petr Cech and, perhaps, with Leno.