COMMENT By Matt Farr
The harrowing 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday gave Arsenal several things to think about.
The goalkeeper has become one of their most pressing issues. Petr Cech is a fantastic player and has been in the Premier League for quite some time. However, his performances of late suggest that he is no longer a viable long-term option for Arsenal if they seek the success they so desperately crave.
The 34-year-old was at fault for Chelsea’s third goal, playing a lazy clearance into the path of Cesc Fabregas, who shot into an empty net.
Fans have called for Cech to be axed in favour of deputy stopper David Ospina, but neither goalkeeper (or Wojciech Szczesny, who is on loan at AS Roma) is on the same level as their rivals – Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), David De Gea (Manchester United) or Hugo Lloris (Tottenham).
Arsenal must seriously consider bringing in a new long-term goalkeeper in the summer, and they should narrow their search to one of these three players.
The 24-year-old would no doubt be the No.1 goalkeeper for the German national team if it wasn’t for Manuel Neuer.
Leno is rising through the European ranks as a top-class shot-stopper at an alarming rate, and the Bayer Leverkusen star should be at the top of Arsenal’s summer wishlist.
A decade younger than Cech, Leno would inject a breath of fresh air in between the sticks at the Emirates, with the ability to react much quicker than the ageing current No.1.
He has proven adept at saving penalties throughout his career, an area where Cech has struggled for Arsenal, while his positioning has improved greatly after a shaky start.
He can also handle the big occasion, and that’s the big added bonus that Arsenal will be so desperately looking for.
As far as German Premier League goalkeepers go, Leno is certainly more down the line of ex-Gunner Jens Lehmann than Liverpool flop Loris Karius.
Perhaps the most viable option, given the host of reports linking him with a move to the club in the past, is Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak.
The 24-year-old is definitely up there with the best in Europe, and has the record to prove it. From 21 games in all competitions this season, Oblak has kept 11 clean sheets and conceded just 15 goals.
He will come at a fair price though, but Arsenal simply have to be willing to spend that sort of money to address their problems. All of their rivals have done it, and they must follow suit.
The Slovenia international has superb reflexes, communicates well with his defence, and has excellent distribution.
Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny have formed a strong partnership at the heart of Arsenal’s defence this season, but having Oblak behind them would be even better.
He was Atletico’s undisputed No.1 before suffering a shoulder injury, but he will no doubt be welcomed back with open arms when he returns to full fitness.
Cech was a temporary solution, but not a long-term answer. Sergio Rico can be both.
At 23, the Sevilla man is very much still learning his trade as a No.1 goalkeeper, but he has already risen from relative obscurity to show plenty of signs that he can become one of Europe’s top shot-stoppers in the coming years.
From 29 appearances this season, Rico has kept 11 clean sheets, including a remarkable five clean sheets from Sevilla’s six Champions League group-stage matches.
A tall, commanding presence, the Spaniard is assertive in his area, and deals very well with crosses. His extended reach means he can also pull-off saves that many other (smaller) goalkeepers can’t make.
His exceptional reflexes and reactions back that up. He has an incredibly bright future ahead of him, and a move to Arsenal and the Premier League would be a much-deserved next step in his career.