Arsenal were the only team in Europe’s major divisions to not sign a single outfield player during the summer transfer window.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who didn’t know that particular fact after it was paraded around and pinned up as yet another example of Arsenal’s failure to sufficiently strengthen their squad to a Premier League winning standard.
In a way, it was a great shame, as while Wenger spent press conference after press conference trying to justify his decisions, attention was being taken away from the one signing Arsenal did complete: that of Petr Cech from Chelsea.
Certainly, there was an acknowledgement that Cech was a massive signing for the Gunners, as a vastly experienced keeper on another level to Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina, signed from one of their biggest rivals, who are managed by someone who doesn’t bother to hide his disdain for Arsene Wenger.
But the feeling was that he alone would not be enough to elevate Arsenal to a title challenging level. Arsenal needed a midfielder, they needed a striker, they needed depth, and, for some, they still needed a centre back.
That view may have been vindicated when Arsenal were stunned by West Ham at the Emirates on the opening day of the season. Cech found himself at fault for both of the Hammers’ goals, as the outfield players conspired to produce a turgid display.
Fast forward two months and the result has proven to be just a blip, with Arsenal winning seven of their first ten games, thanks in no small part to their new shot-stopper.
Since that West Ham disaster, Cech has already saved Arsenal a number of points, both domestically and in Europe. He produced several excellent stops to keep Arsenal in the game after Liverpool’s first half onslaught at the Emirates and earn them a point, and did so again to keep Bayern Munich out in the Champions League.
On Saturday night, his late save against Gerard Deulofeu ensured that his side didn’t throw away three points against Everton.
This writer couldn’t help but role his eyes when the Arsenal’s Supporters Trust (AST) requested an “independent review” of the club’s transfer strategy at their annual general meeting with shareholders, mere days after Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, both players signed by Arsenal’s apparently inadequate transfer strategy, dismantled Manchester United in the Premier League.
Cech played his part in that game, too, by denying Anthony Martial at the end of the first half and quelling any hope United may have received from nicking a goal just before the break.
For all the attention that is placed on the ten outfield players, the importance of having a great goalkeeper cannot be understated.
Over the years, Arsenal’s defenders have come under plenty of scrutiny from anyone and everyone, while the role of the keeper escaped the same vigorous attention unless they made fatal mistakes, such as dropping the ball into their own goal, as David Ospina notoriously managed in the defeat to Olympiacos, or generally had a shocking performance, as Szczesny did against Southampton last season.
However, there are things a keeper can bring to a team beyond his shot-stopping. Every keeper is expected to be able to keep the ball out of their own net, but the best keepers create a sense of security at the back.
Cech is a vast improvement over many of the keepers Arsenal have had in the last decade, simply because he makes less mistakes in all situations. He’s a keeper you can trust implicitly, something fans were never able to do with the likes of Manual Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina.
The question remains whether this will be enough to enable Arsenal to challenge for the title, but the early signs are hugely positive. For all the criticism the club received for it’s lack of transfer activity, the squad is strong and playing with confidence.
It’s now being backed up by hugely experienced and high quality keeper, signed for what now looks like a paltry £10 million.
After Cech’s recent save against Everton, Rob Hawthorne, Sky’s commentator for that game, wondered how many more points will he save for Arsenal. I daresay the answer is a lot more.