Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Do Arsenal need to Cech their goalkeeping set-up?

Since the new year began, I can’t understand my alarm when it goes off. I don’t quite know what I think it is, but none of it makes sense to me. I dream heavily between snoozes. This morning, in the 10 minutes between alarm chimes, I dreamed that Mesut Ozil had been sent to jail for murdering a politician, but everybody, and I mean everybody, was outraged because this politician was a complete dick and he’d done the world a great service.

There was rolling news about it, and TV debates, but in the end he had to stay in jail and he kept crying because he was worried that the prison uniform made him look fat. Then my alarm went off again and I came to understand that I had to get out of bed. Poor Mesut.

Anyway, it’s a pretty quiet morning, but there’s some good stuff in the Evening Standard about Petr Cech and his relationship with his former goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon. The pair first met at Rennes when the Czech international signed there, and continued their relationship at Chelsea.

It’s interesting to read about the different techniques and methods he uses to improves to improve himself as a player, because:

If you’re a professional goalkeeper for 20 years and somebody keeps shooting the ball at you, after a while, just catching it from 15 yards will not make you progress.

So he talks about different exercises:

We try to catch different shape balls, bigger balls or smaller ones because then you need to adapt your hand-eye coordination every time. Suddenly your brain starts working again. You can use colours. Imagine you saving the ball but at the same time a card is held up.

You save the ball and shout the colour — you are concentrating on more things. That makes your peripheral vision better as well. Your brain is working much more than just with a simple catch.

There’s lots of other really interesting stuff in the article, and I guess it shows in his performances. Bar that opening day at West Ham aside, Cech has been outstanding for us, and even then it was fascinating to hear him talk about what happened against the Hammers. It wasn’t water off a duck’s back, it wasn’t something he wrote off to just one of those days, he thought about why it happened and spoke on it, saying:

We were all raring to go and then the first half was really slow. There was a bit of a lack of rhythm and you think: ‘Let’s put a bit of energy in here.’ So when that ball came [a free-kick by West Ham’s Dimitri Payet], I was thinking: ‘Let’s go and get the ball and make something happen.’ A fast counter-attack, or whatever. And this was where the mistake came, because there was no way I could have got this ball.

I wanted to do something extra, but this usually goes wrong. You shouldn’t do things that are extra; you should do things the precise way and not try to do something you don’t have to. You learn in every moment, even at 33.

He’s been a clear upgrade on what came before, no question about it, and the benefits of that in close games are obvious. The saves against Newcastle, given how we played that day, were absolutely vital. To be able to nick a 1-0 on the back off some of his stops simply highlights his importance, and the importance of a top keeper.

You can ask why we haven’t had one for so long, and it’s a difficult question to answer, isn’t it? I suppose the most obvious way to look at it is that like the very best strikers, really great goalkeepers are few and far between. They don’t come ten a penny, for every Cech or de Gea or Courtois there are dozens of Pantillimons and Mignolets and Tim Howards – competent keepers for the most part but capable of too many mistakes and well short of that top level. Nevertheless, I think we might have tried harder in the past.

However, I also think that in Wojciech Szczesny we had, potentially, a young player who could have grown and developed into that kind of top class player. That it didn’t happen ultimately has to come down to him, because he can’t say that he was 100% focused on his career when his behaviour clearly shows that wasn’t the case. He had all the attributes in terms of physicality and character. He was slightly mad, but didn’t let things get him down, a much needed quality in a goalkeeper.

Yet, when you read about Cech and his relationship with Lollichon, you realise the importance of a great coach in helping a player get to where they need to be. I think it’s telling that both Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski were very close to Tony Roberts, the former goalkeeping coach who went to Swansea, and not so much with current first team coach Gerry Peyton about whom there have been questions down the years.

I wonder, now that Mourinho is gone from Chelsea, if we might make a summer move for Lollichon. There were stories this week about us wanting to bring Szczesny back to understudy Cech. At 25 it’s not too late for him, but he really needs to be dedicated and to learn properly, and perhaps a new coach and new techniques might be the thing to get him back on track as a player.

More importantly, the importance of Cech’s relationship with the Frenchman would suggest this would be a clever thing to do. At 33 he’s still got years in the tank, and as he said himself, you’re never too old to learn. To get the best out of him in the September of his career, wouldn’t it make sense to have him work with the man who gave him his Spring?

Right, that’s that for this morning. I’ll be back tomorrow with an Arsecast and all that. Until then, have a good one.

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