09 May 2016

Čech, please: Has Petr Čech proved his worth to Arsenal?

When we signed Petr Čech this summer, it seemed like a master-stroke. Here we were nicking one of our most hated nemeses' classiest players, rescuing him from the Machivaellian Mourinho, achieving some semblance of justice after the Fàbregas fiasco, and adding to our points-haul a tidy 10 to 15 points, at least according to John Terry. However, in a season in which we've struggled mightily just to finish exactly where we always seem to finish—in a season in which Liverpool, Chelsea, and Man U have circled the drain by degrees—the best we can do is to finish on 71 points, four points less than last season. That this could see us finish second says a bit about the season. What does it say about the signing of Čech?

After the shambolic misadventures of Szczęsny, Fabiański,
Mannone, and Almunia (not to mention any number of lesser lights), the arrival of Čech was supposed to bring us our first truly world-class keeper since Lehmann. Finally, it seemed, there would be someone who could both challenge and instruct Szczęsny, molding him into the kind of keeper he's so capable of being if he'd just stop making boneheaded mistakes. That Szczęsny went out on loan to make way for Čech was unfortunate, but the real question is whether or not we've been better-off with Čech in this, his first season at Arsenal.

To attribute any number of points dropped or won to the keeper is, at a risk of demolishing the rest of this post, a fool's errand. Rarely do we get a clear-cut chance to say of a goal, "ah, yes—the other keeper would have saved that". There are far too many variables to track and too few time-machines with which to explore among others: how many pot-shots has Čech not faced by dint of his reputation? How many more long-distance shots has he had to save without a parked bus in front of him? To what degree do reflexes and agility outweigh or fall short of positioning and anticipation?

In the table linked here, I've compared results from last season with the corresponding ones from this season. Conveniently, we can treat those from last season's relegated clubs (QPR, Hull, and Burnley) as interchangeable with those from this season's promoted clubs (Bournemouth, Norwich, and Watford). Our record against both was the same; five wins, one draw. To this point, sadly, the best we'll do is that four points less than last season. To this point, we've conceded the same number of goals (36) than we did last season while scoring ten fewer. This complicates the comparison exponentially. To take just one example, if we draw 0-0 against an opponent whom we defeated 1-0 last season, do we hold that against Čech? It's two points dropped.

Looking at the bigger picture, Čech has kept 15 clean sheets, joint best with de Gea, Schmeichel, and Hart. Three of Čech's clean sheets ended in draws (Sunderland, Southampton, and Stoke). Four times, Čech conceded just one goal only to see us draw (Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Norwich) or lose (Chelsea). It would be churlish to fault him for all fifteen of those dropped points. After all, of those results, several stand out as shocking missed opportunities. Had we scored just seven more goals, properly allocated, we would have taken home not six points but nineteen points, good enough to be on 87 and eyeing up a chance at 90 and a cakewalk to the Prem title.

It's perhaps all too fitting, altogether too ironic, that we could very well have seen a 15-point improvement on last season's haul of 75 points. That we won't isn't entirely Čech's fault. Yes, he should have done better here and there. Conceding ten goals from shots taken outside the box, as Čech has this season, is rarely a ringing endorsement of a keeper's quality—but, in this case, it instead highlights how toothless we've been at the other end of the pitch.

Long story short: yes, it might have been better had Čech delivered a few more provable points (he might be to blame for points dropped at Anfield, the Etihad, or Upton Park, but he's not been guilty of any of the howlers we've come to associate with our men between the sticks. Then again, it would have been a far cry better had any number of other players in the squad delivered those provable points. Point fingers at them, not at Čech.

'Til next time, thanks for your visit. As always, weigh in with your thoughts below the fold. Has Čech delivered on his promise? Was he worth the £10.9 transfer fee?