One of the finest goalkeepers of all time, a four-time Premier League Golden Glove winner, an immaculate professional, Petr Cech added yet another feather in his cap when the 35-year-old earned his 200th Premier League clean sheet in his 432nd Premier League appearance with Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Watford.
Having been on the brink of history for over two months now, the glorious moment didn’t come easy for the former Chelsea custodian. The Arsenal skipper for the night pulled off an excellent save off Troy Deeney’s spot-kick just past the hour mark to prevent Watford from getting a foothold into the game, but it was Cech’s low save off Richarlison’s free-kick in the 26th minute which set the tone of the night for the Czech international.
As Arsenal fans heaved sighs of relief with Cech’s every acrobatic save to defend his goal, long-time Premier League spectators would realize that Cech was in his element and his performance for his 200th clean sheet in the English top division could draw parallels to his countless displays in a Chelsea shirt in the prime of his career.
“It's an unbelievable personal milestone, obviously,” Cech acknowledged after the game with a smile, also admitting that at times it was “frustrating” to wait for eleven games for the final clean sheet after racking up 199 clean sheets in 2017 itself.
A brilliant shot-stopper whose reflexes and positioning in the box has often underlined his consistency over the years, Cech has enjoyed an illustrious yet undramatic career in England — the fact that he has donned the jerseys of two local rivals in Chelsea and Arsenal; and continues to be respected by both sets of fans adds to his aura.
That he would go on to attain 200 Premier League clean sheets seemed far-fetched when Cech switched clubs in the summer of 2015, as it did in 2006 when the then-Chelsea keeper suffered a depressed skull fracture during his clash with Stephen Hunt, an incident which prompted changes in the concussion protocol vehemently followed these days during any head injury within a game. Not only did Cech overcome the horrific injury which almost cost him his life, Cech has since proved time and again why he is rightly considered among the legendary keepers of all generations.
His longevity and consistency in arguably the most physically-exhausting European football league stems from his work-ethic, so much that his inclusion in the Arsenal first-team is a given, even though the 35-year-old is supposedly into his twilight years.
While his heroics in Berlin during Chelsea’s maiden UEFA Champions League win in May 2012 ensured that Petr Cech won all the possible honours at the club level, his true legacy lies in his Premier League record, for the only two other goalkeepers to register over 150 Premier League clean sheets – David James and Mark Schwarzer appeared in over 500 league matches to achieve those milestones.
Cech may reside in an exclusive club of goalkeepers now, but he has been setting records throughout his time in England — the Czech international had gone 1025 minutes without conceding a goal in 2004/05 season, an enviable record at the time, while also snapping up a Premier League Player of the Month trophy in April 2007 for eight successive clean sheets.
The signs were always there — that Cech would achieve greatness — since his days at Sparta Prague and Rennes, but few could have predicted his relentless virtuosity when Claudio Ranieri signed him at Chelsea from the French club which had barely survived relegation the previous season. Not only did Cech adapt to the Premier League with effortless ease, but he took Europe by storm with his poise and command, forming the spine of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea Mk I team.
A far cry from Gianluigi Buffon’s intimidating presence and Manuel Neuer’s unabashed confidence, Petr Cech has carved a niche for himself with his quiet self-assurance — written off at times due to injuries as well as competition from younger horses, Cech has continued to play at a sublime level.
Renowned for his saves, Cech’s leadership qualities have always been immensely underrated — as has been seen not only during his time at the Emirates, but also by the fact that his departure left a void at the Stamford Bridge which Chelsea often struggle to fill nowadays.
Cech’s influence on the next generation of goalkeepers will be profound, his legacy in the English Premier League timeless. However, it was Ryan Mason who perhaps paid Cech the biggest compliment while talking about his own career-ending head injury, “Cech's been fantastic. He's kind of set the standard of what it is to be a proper man and a gentleman.”
Cech plays the game with the same standards of quality, professionalism and integrity he holds himself to — his sterling record speaking for himself, thereby placing the Czech international and the Arsenal custodian on a rarefied pedestal of sporting excellence he will enjoy for years to come.
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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2018 08:28:26 IST