Despite the signing of Bernd Leno, the Gunners coach put his faith in the veteran by making him captain at the start of the season Replacing Petr Cech with Bernd Leno is not going to solve Arsenal’s problems.
There have been serious calls from the club’s supporters in the past few weeks for the 36-year-old, four-time Premier League winner to be dropped in favour of Leno, signed from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer .
Arsenal fans are no doubt itching to catch a glimpse of their new goalkeeper, and they likely will not have to wait too much longer for a view of him in competitive action.
With matches upcoming in the Europa League – against Vorskla, Qarabag and Sporting CP – as well as in the Carabao Cup against Brentford, the 26-year-old German should get a run out.
Leno is regarded as being in the mould of a modern goalkeeper and, therefore, seen by some as a better fit for what new head coach Unai Emery needs.
It’s no secret that Arsenal’s playing style this season has brought an emphasis on building attacks through possession from the back.
Cech – at times – has betrayed some difficulties in playing a short passing game. He is being asked to focus not only on getting the ball clear but to protect it and make sure his defenders or midfielders have good passes to work with.
While Emery and Cech are both optimistic about the plan succeeding over the course of the season, patience is apparently in short supply among fans. They simply cannot endure the wait while Cech gets up to speed with Emery’s passing game.
“He made [Cech] captain,” observes former Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich. “Leno is going to eventually take over, but I don’t see that solving their problems.”
Cech is not necessarily the only problem in Arsenal’s build-up. Yes, he has made errors but there is a lack of responsibility and maybe a lack of courage in the decisions of the players further up. Look again at his mistakes against Manchester City and Cardiff City, where he came in for most criticism.
Pep Guardiola’s team are probably the best in England at executing a high-press and were all over Arsenal as soon as they tried to play out from the back.
The incident in which Cech conceded a corner with an attempted pass to Shkodran Mustafi began with the goalkeeper in possession.
He passed it to Sokratis, who passed it to Matteo Guendouzi. The midfielder then opted to go back to Cech and in a sense played his goalkeeper into trouble.
Against Cardiff, Sokratis again opted to go back to the goalkeeper when confronted with a press and gave a dodgy ball to Cech. That’s how the chance for Harry Arter was coughed up.
Even if Cech is under pressure from the coach to keep the ball on the floor – for fear of losing his place in the team – in those instances it might be better for him to get the ball out of imminent danger.
“If the ball goes in from a silly back pass he might be out of the team anyway,” says Bosnich.
“What’s the worse choice? If the ball goes in from one of those clangers, he’ll be kicking himself saying ‘I should have just put my foot through it’.
“He’s obviously been told to play out, but there’s no shame whatsoever in putting your foot through it if it’s not on.
“He’s got to take responsibility because if those two clangers go in then there’s a problem and it doesn’t exactly fill the defence with confidence.
“He’s experienced enough to say: ‘I will do everything I can to play out’ but there are times in the game if the ball goes in it’s his responsibility.”
And anyway, it’s not just a question of Cech being unable to play with his feet. It’s the fact that Arsenal’s other players inside their own half are not comfortable with playing the quick passes up field that their coach would prefer.
“When you’re an outfield player there are quite a few occasions when you’re tired and you don’t want to take that risk,” says Bosnich.
“They don’t want to take a risk going forward at certain times so they’re passing it to him. If they pass back to him in a poor position, there’s no problem for them.”
Cech is doing pretty well all things considered. No goalkeeper has completed more passes this season than Cech’s 100. He’s had the most touches of any Premier League keeper at 189.
He’s got the fourth best passing accuracy of any goalkeeper in the division at 71 per cent. Only Alisson, Rui Patricio and Kepa Arrizabalaga have played fewer long balls into the final third than Cech’s eight.
Those three are brand new to the Premier League and are renowned as keepers in the modern style. It’s not a matter of Cech failing to adapt.
“The stats are backing him up and he’s doing the right thing the vast majority of the time,” says Bosnich. “Why take the risk doing silly things just for the sake of going extreme and playing out all times?
“If you see goalkeepers in training, you’ll see tricks and things like that. You do it on a matchday, it takes so much courage. If you get caught with it, nine times out of 10 it’s going to end up as a goal.”
It’s clear what Emery wants to achieve. By breaking through the first line of the opposition press, space becomes available to attack. With world-class talents like Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front it makes sense to give good passes to them in areas they can exploit.
That all starts with Cech and for now he’s managing well. Don’t let a couple of mistakes distract you from that fact.