So the first signing of the summer was confirmed yesterday with the announcement that Petr Cech has agreed to join us from Chelsea for a fee believed to be around £10m.
Speaking to the official site, Arsene Wenger welcomed his new, first-choice keeper, saying:
Petr Cech is a player that I have admired for a long time and I am very pleased that he has decided to join us. 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.
And when he says he’s admired him for a long time, he really, really has. We were interested in him as far back as 2003 when work permit issues made the move impossible. Those with long memories will recall we signed a player called Michal Papadopulos. Not the most Czech sounding player of all time, but we took him on loan from Banik Ostrava in July 2003.
At the time it seemed an odd move because he never had the quality to play for us. I think he might have made one appearance (maybe), but the fact he shared an agent with Cech probably explains it a little better. However, the keeper was in France playing for Rennes, and by the time a move to England presented no difficulty, Chelsea had the edge in terms of finances and he ended up there.
11 years later, and Wenger finally has his man (while Sebastian Frey lies weeping in a darkened room. “WHHYYYYYYY?!, he shouts, coming to the stark realisation that it’s never going to happen for him now).
For his part, Cech seems delighted with the move, suggesting conversations with Tomas Rosicky and Wenger convinced him this was the right thing for him. On Rosicky:
He told me a lot of good things and he was one of the reasons why I decided to give it a go and meet with Arsenal. Then the discussions went on and here we are today! I am really happy it happened that way.
I had a good chat with him and it was the first time after the club approached me that I could speak to him in private for such a long time. He made me believe that this was the right step and that this is the club with a lot of ambition. I have a lot of personal motivation and ambition and the club definitely matches it.
That Cech made the jump after 11 years at Stamford Bridge, is unusual, but perhaps a further sign that big teams are now more prepared to deal with each other in the transfer market than they have been in the past. It’s always been a particularly English thing that players, out of loyalty, tend not to crossover the way they do in other leagues, but that’s gone by the wayside a bit in recent years (and I don’t include Man City’s pillaging of our players – that was a small club made big by finance trying to make leaps forward, and there’s not one player we sold them that really hurt).
His statement to the Chelsea fans was very nicely written and his thanks to Roman Abramovich lend weight to the stories that the man at the top sanctioned the move against the wishes of Jose Mourinho. If you really want to read between the lines, the fact he has nothing to say about the manager who signed him, or who was his boss at Chelsea twice, is probably quite telling. I was always suspicious and dubious of this move simply because Mourinho’s opposition to it was so obvious and understandable, but he’s been overruled very publicly and it’ll be interesting to see how that chafes his monstrous ego.
But that’s his past, and what’s important is the future. He’s been welcomed to the club by most of the first teamers with a social media presence, enjoyed some ‘bantz’ with Theo Walcott, and interestingly, got a big welcome from Wojciech Szczesny via his Facebook page in which the Pole says he’s looking forward to learning from Cech. As I said last week, an experienced quality player under whom he can develop is something he’s lacked for the entirety of his Arsenal career, so this is a very positive move in that regard.
But more than anything, the signing of Petr Cech tells you something about Arsene Wenger’s desire to make this a team that can genuinely challenge in the Premier League and in Europe. The fact that he signed a 33 year old is not unprecedented – he brought in Jens Lehmann at the same age – but that he spent over £10m on him absolutely is.
We’re no longer a club whose transfer dealings are constrained by the need for the players to retain some kind of sell on value. It’s one thing spending £700,000 on a player in his 30s, even we could write that off, but £10m+ on somebody whose market value will be close to zero by the time he’s leaving is a show that investment is being made in the team simply for the sake of the team, and nothing else.
For many the goalkeeping situation has been unconvincing for a long time, although I think it’s been much better in recent seasons. Ospina did very well in the second part of the last campaign, and while it’s de rigueur to write off Szczesny as some kind of disaster, I think he’s been a solid player for us in the most part, but one whose potential has not been realised due to deficiencies in our set-up (as well as a lack of focus on his behalf).
I’m not excusing him in any way from his daft behaviour last year, but I think a #1 and #2 of Cech and Szczesny gives us fantastic quality and healthy competition in that position. It’s a long way from Almunia and Fabianski, that’s for sure.
The other thing Cech brings is, as I’ve pointed out before, the experience of winning things. Signings like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez had that when they came from Real Madrid and Barcelona. Two successive FA Cup wins mean that the players in this squad, most of whom were without medals in their career and under enormous pressure to make that right because of the club’s trophy drought, also know what it means, and what it takes, to win things.
The next step is to take those cup wins, often the catalyst for teams to go on to bigger things, and turn them into a Premier League title or, if we’re really going to be dreamers this morning, a European trophy. To my mind that’s still a challenge we’re not quite ready for, our exit last season shows there’s something psychological to overcome there, but it feels like we’re as well placed as we have been for years for a tilt at the domestic title.
In the 2013/14 we topped the table for longer than anyone else before the challenge faded. Last season the second part of our campaign displayed the kind of form that title challengers need. Next year we need to put those two things together. Start well, middle well, end well. The talent is there, the experience is there, and the ambition, as outlined by the Cech transfer, is apparent too.
I don’t think this will be the end of our summer transfer business (although I do think it’s going to be maybe one more and that’s it), but it’s a damn good start.
If you didn’t hear yesterday’s Arsecast Extra it was record BC (before Cech), but we still touch on his (at that point potential) arrival, and loads more besides. You can listen here, or below:
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. News throughout the day on Arseblog News, more from me tomorrow.