Cech has point to prove to Chelsea, says Gary Lim
Cech out to prove Chelsea wrong in making Courtois their No. 1
Arsene Wenger bought only one player in the summer.
It may turn out to be the most inspired signing of his Arsenal managerial career.
When Petr Cech takes to the field against Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow, he will be looking to extend his Premiership record of clean sheets to 173, in his 355th Premier League appearance.
Understandably, key personnel at Chelsea had misgivings when Arsenal made their approach for the Czech, who had lost his starting spot to the young, talented Thibaut Courtois.
So synonymous with the Blues was Cech, who spent 11 years there, that adidas mistakenly dropped off his gloves - meant for tomorrow's clash - at Chelsea's training ground instead of Arsenal's.
Former Blues manager Jose Mourinho was adamant not to help Wenger complete his potential title-winning jigsaw, while captain John Terry believed Cech would earn Arsenal "12 to 15 points" a season.
If not for owner Roman Abramovich's magnanimity to a loyal servant, Cech's £10-million ($20.4m) transfer to Arsenal would never have happened.
The Czech Republic international's value to Arsenal isn't confined to his performances between the sticks.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that his worth extends to areas more profound.
For years, Wenger's men lacked the nous of champions, and have also worryingly picked up a reputation for imploding towards the business end of a campaign.
Enter Cech. The 33-year-old goalkeeper brought with him from Chelsea one Champions League and four Premier League winners' medals.
He fills a leadership vacuum left behind by captain Mikel Arteta, who isn't guaranteed a spot in the starting line-up. And he provides the calming influence when tension builds up.
In the short space of just over half a season, Cech has, through his mere presence, fortified the psyche of a self-doubting group, sharpened their instincts and instilled belief.
Wenger said of Cech recently: "He is someone who gives you an aura... a charisma that is always important in big games. You always look around the dressing room before a big game and you think, 'Are we strong enough?'. And these kind of faces help you to believe it."
But Cech also represents more than just a psychological boost.
Arsenal are top of the league. They share with Manchester City the joint-third best defensive record, having let in only 21 goals in 22 games. Cech, who has featured in every league fixture, has a league-high 10 clean sheets with City's Joe Hart.
Cech lends consistency to a position which Arsenal had never adequately filled since German Jens Lehmann left in 2008.
And, as Terry correctly predicted, Cech was always going to be worth plenty of points to any team.
His absence was keenly felt at Stamford Bridge during the three months Belgian Courtois, 23, sat out through injury.
Cech's contributions to the Gunners came through crystal clear in their last game - a goalless draw with Stoke at the Britannia. He pulled off a series of stops, including a superb double-save from Bojan Krkic and Joselu, in a Man-of-the-Match display.
Tomorrow, he comes face-to-face with Courtois, the man who ousted him from Chelsea.
His team go into the game on top of the pile, while his former teammates are battling to avoid the relegation scrap. The irony won't be lost on Chelsea fans.
- Games played: 22
- Goals conceded: 21
- Clean sheets: 10
- Saves: 73
- Games played: 11
- Goals conceded: 16
- Clean sheets: 2
- Saves: 33
Minutes since Arsenal scored against Chelsea in the league. At the Emirates, three of their last four meetings ended goalless. Chelsea won the other game 2-1.
Oezil, Sanchez could return
Arsenal could welcome back both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Oezil for their Premier League clash against Chelsea tomorrow.
Sanchez has been missing since November with a hamstring issue and Oezil sat out last weekend's draw at Stoke due to a foot injury, but the pair are expected to start.
Mohamed Elneny is still awaiting his Arsenal debut. Fellow midfielder Francis Coquelin is back in training following a knee injury but will not feature, nor will Danny Welbeck, Santi Cazorla (both knee) or Jack Wilshere (leg).
For Chelsea, playmaker Eden Hazard has returned to training following a groin injury and could be available.
Diego Costa suffered a bruised shin against Everton last weekend, but is expected to be fit.
- Wire Services.
Wenger: Blues clash a big deal
Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal's meeting with Chelsea tomorrow remains a big game despite the Blues' travails this season.
Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea travel across London to the Emirates Stadium a massive 19 points behind the Gunners, who sit top of the table on goal difference.
A 2-0 victory over Arsenal in September is one of just six league wins for last year's title winners, with Guus Hiddink now at the helm following Jose Mourinho's sacking.
Wenger's side have already proven they have the steel to beat their main rivals - with victories over Manchester United, Manchester City and Leicester already secured.
And the Frenchman believes the visit of Chelsea is another chance for his players to show Arsenal can win their first title in 12 years.
"It's another game where people look at us and see how we behave," he said. "Even if Chelsea are not in the best position, look at their squad.
"It's a big game because of the quality of the players on the pitch. It has a big importance to us as well. We play at the Emirates and know how important it will be to win this game."
Striker Olivier Giroud also feels the need to beat Chelsea with several teams still involved in the title picture.
Arsenal have drawn their last two games, conceding a late leveller in a 3-3 draw at Liverpool before being held 0-0 at Stoke, but remain top as other contenders also struggle for consistency.
"We needed to bounce back after the Southampton defeat (on Boxing Day) and now we are on a really good run," he told Arsenal Player.
"The race is very tight because Leicester City and Manchester City will be fighting as well.
"We have a bit of an advantage over Manchester United and Tottenham, but they could come back if you lose two games, you never know." - PA Sport.