Arsenal move a reward for Petr Cech's loyal service
Petr Cech was on the brink of ending his 11-year association with Chelsea last night, leaving the club where he won 13 major trophies. Cech underwent a medical at Arsenal yesterday ahead of an £11million move which will end his era of success at Stamford Bridge.
The deal, when it is confirmed, will be one of the most significant of the summer. Big players do not often move between big English clubs and yet that is what Cech will do this weekend.
Even as Chelsea's second-choice goalkeeper, he played 16 games last season and his departure will surely diminish the champions.
His arrival at Arsenal can only improve their chances of challenging for their first league title since Cech signed for Chelsea 11 years ago.
Cech's remarkably successful time with the Blues explains why the club have generously allowed him this unlikely move. Chelsea do not willingly sell their best players to clubs who can hurt them but for Cech an exception has been made.
It says everything about the debt of gratitude felt to the 33-year-old by the club, or, to be more precise, owner Roman Abramovich.
It has been clear for some time that the decision to sell Cech comes from the very top of the club, even above the manager Jose Mourinho. Discussing Cech's future at a press conference early last month, Mourinho publicly revealed that he might be powerless to keep him at Stamford Bridge.
Explaining why, in this instance, he would not get his way, he said: "One thing is Jose Mourinho and another is Mr Abramovich, and another thing is the board, because the board is a little bit of me and a little bit of other people.
"If it was up to me, Petr would stay. That is it. It would be my decision for Petr to stay. I don't want him to go to another English club."
Yet that is precisely what will happen and it is a reminder, if one was needed, that even the most famous manager in the world still answers to someone else. Mourinho said at the time that he would "accept" whatever the club decided and that is now what he will have to do.
If Abramovich allowing Cech to join Arsenal is the loyal, emotional decision, then Mourinho's position is the rational one.
After Chelsea lifted the Premier League trophy on May 24, Mourinho said that they had "the two best goalkeepers in the Premier League". It may just have been part of a campaign of flattery to keep Cech, but it was not an absurd exaggeration.
Even after losing his place in the first team to Thibaut Courtois last season, Cech was impressive whenever called upon, producing important performances in the Premier League against Arsenal, Everton and Leicester City, making saves which helped Chelsea to the title.
Mourinho said at the end of the season: "I am not sure, if Petr was not there in those seven matches, if we would be champions."
There is no doubt that Cech will seriously improve Arsenal, giving them more experience, quality and security between the goal than they have had at any time since David Seaman left 12 years ago. Moreover, Cech is likely to give Arsenal years of good service.
Whether or not he will make up the difference between Arsenal and Chelsea - last year the gap in the league was 12 points - is unlikely. Arsenal need upgrades elsewhere, too. But he will only make that gap smaller.