Belfast Telegraph

It's difficult to believe how Cech's integrity could be questioned, says Emery

 

Gearing up: Retiring goalkeeper Petr Cech could start in Baku
Gearing up: Retiring goalkeeper Petr Cech could start in Baku

By Simon Peach

Unai Emery cannot understand how anyone could wonder about "gentleman" Petr Cech's integrity as the retiring Arsenal goalkeeper prepares to face former club Chelsea in the Europa League final.

The 37-year-old will bring the curtain down on his illustrious career in tonight's showpiece in Baku, where the goalkeeper could scarcely have wished for a more fitting final game.

Cech joined Arsenal in 2015 after a medal-laden 11 years across London at Chelsea, where he reportedly could return this summer in a sporting director role.

The veteran has maintained his "sole focus" is on helping the Gunners triumph in Azerbaijan and Emery insists the background noise about a potential Stamford Bridge move is not coming into his thinking.

"I respect him a lot," the Arsenal boss said. "His career is amazing, first like a person and second like a professional goalkeeper. I think he deserves (us) to trust in him. His career says that he is a gentleman. And he can start, he cannot start. I am going to decide. But both (ways), for him, he is due respect. How can we not believe in him?"

While Emery's response to that question could hardly have been clearer, the Arsenal head coach suggested Bernd Leno could get the nod in goal despite Cech starting every Europa League knockout game.

"The first XI, I want to say to the players first," he said. "I can't speak about Petr Cech a lot, but above all he's a great man, a great professional. He is amazing.

"He decided to finish his career and I want to do something important with him. This is my conversation with him. I want to do something important with him in the last moment of his career, playing or not playing."

Emery looked relaxed throughout the pre-match press conference at the Baku Olympic Stadium - perhaps unsurprisingly given he won the Europa League three times as Sevilla manager.

The Spaniard will be hoping to utilise those experiences in order to end his first season at the Emirates Stadium with a trophy that offers their only route into the Champions League.

Emery baulked at suggestions he could surpass predecessor Arsene Wenger's achievements by winning a European trophy.

"I want to do something important here," said the Spaniard, who will be without the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin.

"I think we deserve to play, and we did so in a good way in this competition.

"We are aiming to play for one title and one possibility to go to the Champions League. But football is to enjoy and to play with all our good spirit, and I think this competition is improving."

Arsenal have vowed to win the Europa League final in honour of absent team-mate Mkhitaryan.

Forward Mkhitaryan chose not to travel to Baku, fearing for his safety due to his native Armenia's long-standing conflicts with Azerbaijan.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Granit Xhaka have confirmed Arsenal will take extra motivation into the final to respect their missing team-mate.

"We've had five or six years together, I know him very well, we are good friends," said Sokratis, explaining a social media post in support of Mkhitaryan.

"So I just wrote what I feel. But we have to play for him and for the players who are injured, and if we win this game, it's also for them."

Arsenal will qualify for next term's Champions League with victory, with Xhaka adamant the Gunners belong at Europe's top table.

The Switzerland midfielder said Arsenal have been hit by Mkhitaryan's absence but pledged the club will do all it can to scoop the silverware.

"We are disappointed he's not here but it's time to speak about football," said Xhaka. "He's very important for us, and we want to give him a trophy tomorrow.

"We've been in the Europa League twice in a row, and a club like Arsenal has to be in the Champions League."

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