While the thought of tying the record for most career clean sheets in the English Premier League may have lingered in the back of thirty-three year old Petr Cech’s mind when Arsenal traveled to Villa Park on Sunday, you never would have known it from his composure.
Cech took on a desperate erratic barrage from last place Aston Villa, who recorded a total of fourteen shots, nineteen crosses, and five corners. Admittedly Villa only managed to put two of those fourteen shots on target, but Cech swallowed both of them.
The clean sheet took Cech to a total of 169 for all Premier League contests, bringing him even with former leader David James. The magic is in how quickly Cech managed this feat — only 349 appearances, over 200 less than it took James (571).
The marvel of it is that Cech at thirty-three is his own biggest endorsement.
He was an iron wall for Chelsea since starting in 2004, taking over for Carlo Cudicini and notching the club record of 220 clean sheets across all competitions. Cudicini has nothing but good things to say about the man that took over his post over a decade ago, and continues to shine.
But 2014 wasn’t as good to Cech. Chelsea decided to place their money on the younger Belgian keeper Thiabut Courtois, and he stuck around as back up on the squad for a year before signing with Arsenal in 2015, and even that wasn’t smooth sailing.
There were questions and eyebrow raises when Arsenal’s only summer transfer signing debuted against West Ham and let in two goals to start the season off with a loss.
It wasn’t that Cech looked old between the posts, but that he had forgotten how to play. He made the mistakes of a rookie fresh from the academy rather than a veteran who had won the golden glove on three separate occasions.
Cech has since found his groove at Arsenal, tallying 7 clean sheets (the most recent at Villa Park) in sixteen weeks. Arsenal are currently second in the Premier League, and while their offense has been lauded it’s clear that Cech is a formidable last bastion of defense for the squad’s title hopes.
For a story that could’ve gone differently, Cech could’ve stayed on Chelsea (currently 16th, dangerously flirting with relegation) rode the bench, and aged out his career. Cech could’ve crumbled after that first brutal week and never regained his form to make a home at Emirates Stadium.
Instead, in what is the twilight years of some careers, Cech is cementing his place in the legacy books and chasing another major title.
His career, and its ground-breaking arc is one of the pleasures of watching the beautiful game.