Cech in at Emirates

Published : Aug 29, 2015 00:00 IST

Petr Cech, the former Chelsea goalkeeper, will be the Gunners’ last line of defence this Premier League season. The experienced Czech international remains one of the best keepers in the world and is a welcome addition to Arsene Wenger’s squad. By Christopher Coates.

Opinion may have changed after his horrific Premier League debut (for his new club), but Arsenal’s signing of Petr Cech was widely seen as one of the best pieces of business of the summer.

The Gunners were in search for a top-class goalkeeper for long and, irrespective of what his performance against West Ham suggested, Cech remains one of the top keepers in world football.

Seeing Cech playing for Arsenal would have been unthinkable for Chelsea fans a few years ago, but with Thibaut Courtois having replaced him as the Blues’ first-choice keeper, a move became inevitable.

The fact that there was so little backlash by the fans said a lot about the service Cech gave to the club and he was given a warm reception from the Chelsea fans when he played against them for the first time in the recent Community Shield, keeping a clean sheet to help his new side to a 1-0 win at Wembley.

As a child, Cech played as a striker before reverting to a goalkeeper in his teenage years. At the age of 17 he joined Czech side FK Chmel Blsany and made his debut in October 1999. In January 2001, Cech signed a five-and-a-half-year deal with Sparta Prague, where he broke the record for the longest streak without conceding a goal. He was finally beaten after 903 minutes, breaking the record held by Theodor Reimann.

Cech announced himself on the international stage at the age of 20 when he saved all but one penalty for the Czech Republic in a shootout against France at the 2002 European under-21 Championship before establishing himself as the Czech Republic’s first-choice goalkeeper.

In July 2002 he was on the move again, joining French side Rennes for Euro 5.5million after a proposed move to Arsenal fell through due to work permit issues. He stayed for only 18 months as Rennes struggled in Ligue 1 and narrowly avoided relegation on the final day of the 2002/3 season.

He finally made the move to England early in 2004 but it was Chelsea who secured his signature in a GBP7million deal. He was brought in as understudy to first-choice goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, but the Italian suffered an elbow injury ahead of the 2004/5 campaign and boss Jose Mourinho gave Cech his opportunity to shine.

Cech kept a clean sheet on his Premier League debut and set a record (which was later beaten by Edwin van der Sar) of 1,025 minutes without conceding. In his debut season, Chelsea conceded just 15 goals — a Premier League record in that season.

Having retained the Premier League title in 2005/6, Cech was a mainstay of the Chelsea team until the following season when he nearly lost his life. During a match against Reading, Cech’s head was caught by Stephen Hunt’s knee and although the injury initially did not look serious, doctors later revealed that Cech suffered a depressed skull fracture and nearly died as a result. Emotions ran high with Hunt, Reading Football Club and the ambulance service questioned for their actions.

Fortunately Cech not only survived, but recovered sufficiently to return to action in January 2007 after three months out. His head was protected by a black head-guard, which he has continued to wear in every game since.

The Czech produced some excellent form in the remainder of the 2006/7 campaign, winning the player-of-the-month award for March after recording eight successive clean sheets.

Cech suffered several injuries in the 2007/8 season but signed a new five-year deal keeping him at Chelsea until 2013 and he returned to form over the following seasons, winning the fans’ player-of-the-year prize in 2011.

In the 2011/12 season, Cech starred in the UEFA Champions League final as Chelsea defied the odds to beat Bayern Munich on penalties and was named man-of-the-match after saving one penalty in extra-time and two in the penalty shootout as the Blues were crowned champions of Europe.

The following season, Cech and Chelsea won the Europa League after beating Benfica 2-1 in the final. He is considered as one of the Chelsea greats, claiming 13 major trophies and breaking Peter Bonetti’s long-standing clean sheets record.

After several years away on loan, young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois returned to Chelsea for the 2014/15 season and Cech’s fortunes changed. Suddenly his first-team appearances were limited but his hopes of moving seemed slim when Mourinho stated: “I think that the club is more important than the players and, as was proved this season, the club needs two very good goalkeepers.

“Without Petr this season I don't think the club would be champions because he played six important matches in the Premier League and without these points we probably wouldn’t be champions.

“So for me, decision number one: Petr will stay. After that, second point to go but not in England. The option I don’t want is for him to go to an English club.”

Eyebrows were raised though when Cech eventually made the short move across London to Arsenal. There was much laughter among Chelsea fans when two soft goals conceded by Cech gifted West Ham victory on the opening weekend.

The season is a long one though and there will be much scrutiny of the decision to offload Cech should Arsenal steal Chelsea’s title.

Cech married Martina Dolejsova in June 2003. They have a son and a daughter.

FACTFILEName: Petr CechPosition: GoalkeeperClub: ArsenalD.O.B: 20/5/1982Czech Republic Caps: 114

Moment to remember: Saving three penalties as Chelsea won the 2012 UEFA Champions League final.

Moment to forget: Parried the ball onto Jonathan Woodgate's head for Tottenham's winner in the 2008 League Cup final.

© PA Sport

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