Being a goalkeeper is hard. When you concede goals you’re criticised and when you keep clean sheets, it’s usually the centre-backs who earn all the praise. But when you’re competing at the top, having a good goalkeeper can make all the difference.
When Arsenal signed Petr Cech from Chelsea in the summer, many regarded it as one of the best pre-season transfers. For over ten years at the Blues, he was regarded as one of the world’s best and he was only beaten off his perch by the talented youth of Courtois. During his time with Chelsea he kept 162 clean sheets in over 400 appearances and beat David James’ all-time highest number of PL clean sheets record in December 2015. His transfer to Arsenal was described as one that ‘could give them the winning edge’ and it’s easy to see why.
It’s been over 11 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League and during that time, Arsene Wenger has been through seven goalkeepers before bringing Cech to the Emirates. Cech on the other hand has won four Premier League titles, a Champions League trophy, four FA Cups, a Europa League trophy and three League Cups with Chelsea. However, with Arsenal now sitting at the top of the table, Cech may help the Gunners to their first title in over a decade and his fifth in as many years.
Already this season, Arsenal have kept nine clean sheets under Cech – only four less than the squad’s total number last season. He’s made 69 saves in 21 Premier League appearances and Arsenal have conceded just 21 goals in the league so far – only three teams have conceded fewer goals (Tottenham, Manchester United and Crystal Palace.) Cech’s presence, both on and off the field has certainly added another dimension to the Arsenal squad. Where they have struggled to see out recent seasons at the top of the table, the 2015-16 campaign might be the year Arsene’s team finally clasp their hands on the Premier League trophy and they can thank Cech for his input.
Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet displayed a figure of complete contrast in Wednesday night’s thriller between the two sides. His mistakes, amongst others in the Liverpool defence, gave Arsenal the opportunity to come back from behind on two occasions and allowed Oliver Giroud to get his side back into the game. Despite keeping more clean sheets than any other keeper in the Premier League during 2015 (12) Mignolet has come under scrutiny from fans after a list of errors have proved costly on a number of occasions for Liverpool.
In December 2014 Brendan Rodgers punished Mignolet’s poor run of form by dropping him for Liverpool’s clash against rivals Manchester United, whilst Brad Jones protected their goal. He only returned when Jones suffered an injury but ended the season in much better form and was still in contention for the Golden Glove award with two games of the campaign remaining.
This season, he has once again come under huge criticism and many mistakes have proved costly for Liverpool. If the Reds want to challenge in Europe and amongst the Premier League’s top four once again, they’ll need to invest in a top class keeper. Compared to Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, Liverpool’s defensive quality is lacking and it’s clear that the GK is one of the first positions that needs addressing.
No goalkeeper has made more errors leading to goals than Mignolet since joining Liverpool (according to whoscored.com). The ‘flap’ which led to West Brom’s opener in December was the eighth time he’d been directly responsible for an opposition goal. Compared to United’s De Gea and City’s Joe Hart, Mignolet has conceded over 50 goals more than the pair in the Premier League. Despite this, only Hart has a better clean-sheets record than the Belgian since he began at Anfield.
For a keeper described as a good shot-stopper, Mignolet has only prevented less than 70% of the shots fired at him since he joined Liverpool – a percentage that puts him average amongst the 31 keepers in the league who have made more than 20 appearances.
To put it in perspective, when Mignolet isn’t keeping clean sheets, he’s making a lot of mistakes and conceding a lot of goals. Without his errors in the games against West Brom and Arsenal, Liverpool could’ve found themselves with three points in both matches, and positioned just two points off the top four. Instead they sit behind both Manchester clubs. Liverpool are currently the only side in the top 10 with a negative goal difference – an indication of just how many goals they’ve conceded in the league so far this season.
When you think back to the last time Liverpool won the league title, they had Bruce Grobelaar in goal – a keeper who was considered one of the best of his generation. Liverpool’s most successful keeper was without doubt Ray Clemence and he claimed five league titles and three European cups. In Mignolet, Liverpool don’t have a keeper capable of commanding his defence to a league title and unless they address this issue sooner rather than later, they’ll continue to stand behind the Premier League’s leaders.