Bernd Leno is the Gunners’ No1 goalkeeper, and his status should be respected in Arsenal’s biggest match of the season, Tony Cascarino claims
Unai Emery will be committing a ‘sackable offence’ if he chooses to play Petr Cech in the Europa League final against Chelsea as it is the biggest match of Arsenal’s season.
This is according to Tony Cascarino, the former Blues striker, who says picking Cech makes no sense in such a huge game as he is well below the level of Bernd Leno, the Gunners’ first-choice goalkeeper.
It may be Cech’s final match as a professional footballer, as he is retiring at the end of the season, and it may be against his former club, but emotion must be put to the side for the good of the club.
Arsenal supporters have called for Cech, 37, to be dropped from the starting XI for the final since reports emerged claiming he will be returning to Stamford Bridge at the end of the season to become Chelsea’s new director of football.
And while Cascarino agrees that Cech should not play the Baku showpiece, it is not because of his affiliation with Chelsea or his potential move back to west London.
“Petr Cech should not play in the Europa League final for Arsenal,” Cascarino wrote in The Times. “Not because he is due to join their opponents Chelsea as a sporting director but because, at this stage in his career, he is a far inferior player to their No1 goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
“I’d almost go so far as saying that if a manager picks a second-choice goalkeeper in a game of such magnitude then it is a sackable offence. It’s total negligence.
“Cech is the No2 at Arsenal for a reason. The club signed Leno for £19 million from Bayer Leverkusen last summer because Cech was on the wane and it will be ridiculous if the 37-year-old starts the biggest game of their season next Wednesday.
“There is so much on the line: a major trophy and the glory that brings to the club and its fans, Champions League qualification, the money you get from reaching that competition. Winning will have a huge impact on the calibre of new signings Arsenal will be able to attract in the transfer window. You simply cannot justify picking Cech with so much at stake.
“I understand why clubs use cup competitions to keep their No 2 goalkeepers fit and focused during the course of the season but this is the biggest match of Arsenal’s season, the biggest match since Unai Emery was appointed head coach, and there are no games after this one, so there is no need for Cech to be kept sharp. This is the final match of a difficult campaign and it is clear that they would have a better chance of winning with Leno in goal.
“Arsenal fans should not be worried because he is probably going back to Chelsea after this match; they should be worried because he is clearly nowhere near the goalkeeper that he used to be.”
Cascarino compared the situation of playing Cech in next week’s final with Watford’s decision to start Heurelho Gomes in the FA Cup final, as it may be the Brazilian goalkeeper’s last ever appearance in football.
Javi Gracia’s decision backfired, with Manchester City thrashing Watford 6-0 at Wembley last Saturday to complete the first ever domestic treble.
Cascarino continued: “Watford sided with sentiment and played their second-choice goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes in the FA Cup final to Manchester City — which they lost 6-0 — and I thought that was a ridiculous decision too.
“They are never going to challenge for the Premier League or the Champions League, and it’s unlikely they will get in another FA Cup final for some time, yet they played a weaker goalkeeper than their No 1 Ben Foster purely because it might be Gomes’s final match.
“I think the Arsenal players will be nervous wrecks about the prospect of Cech playing. They will want Leno to play in Baku.
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“The defenders in particular will feel far more comfortable with Leno behind them. Cech has never been great with the ball at his feet but he has particularly struggled this season when trying to play it out of defence.
“The centre backs will want to know that they can play the ball back to their goalkeeper and not worry about surrendering possession in dangerous areas because of sloppy passes.
“If Cech plays they will be praying that he clears it straight up the pitch.”