Arsene Wenger may have snapped up Petr Cech in the summer but the Arsenal manager has been left thinking what might have been had he got the goalkeeper on board years earlier.
The Czech Republic international was Arsenal’s only signing ahead of the season, making them the only side in the top five leagues in Europe to not bring in a single outfield recruit.
But Cech, who arrived from London rivals Chelsea having lost his number one status to Thibaut Courtois, has since shown that he could make a vital difference for the Gunners this season.
The 33-year-old’s shut-out in last weekend’s win at Aston Villa last weekend means he has now drawn level with David James for the record number of Barclays Premier League clean sheets with 169 to his name.
A victory over title rivals Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night could see Wenger’s side sit top of the table at Christmas as they go in search of their first Premier League crown in over a decade.
And the Arsenal manager admits he is left to ponder if that would still have been the case had it been his side, and not Chelsea, who prized Cech away from Rennes in 2004.
“I think he has brought his experience and his calm and his leadership as well,” he said.
“Sometimes it comes to my mind that it makes me just think that I missed him when he was at Rennes, and how that could have changed for us if we had signed him in that period.
“What I say could be a bit detrimental to David Ospina, and I don’t want to be because he was exceptional last year, but Petr Cech, he has done it all.
“He is someone who gives you an aura, a charisma that is always important in the big games for the players.
“You always look around you in the dressing room before a big game and you think, ‘Are we strong enough?’ And these kind of faces help you to believe it.
“He went to Chelsea from Rennes and we could have been quicker maybe on the day than Chelsea. Especially because I know his agent very well.”
Wenger lists Cech among his best signings as Arsenal boss and has always played up the importance of having a world-class goalkeeper in his side.
David Seaman and Jens Lehmann have been first-choice for past title-winning teams and Wenger reckons Cech is the “whole package”.
“I think as well in the big games, the number of shots on target shrinks. But then the one save can be the difference in the end result,” he added.
“I met him before I signed him and we had a long discussion about the game and the job and his position.
“I was deeply impressed by his knowledge, by his professionalism, by his detailed knowledge. So since I have not been surprised, because I got the whole package in one go.
“There is no history of teams winning things without having a great goalkeeper. I’m now 30 years in the job and I said the other day you learn over the years that the goalkeeper is the most underrated position in football – and maybe the most vital one for winning things.
“You will always have in life that the striker is better paid than the goalkeeper but at the end of the day, are they more important than the goalkeeper?”
Cech’s experience and professionalism will no doubt prove invaluable if Arsenal are to beat City on Monday and complete a hat-trick of victories over those sides currently occupying the other three spaces in the top four.
Having already won 5-2 at table-topping Leicester, Arsenal hammered Manchester United 3-0 at the Emirates earlier in the season and will show their true title credentials if they put Manuel Pellegrini’s men to the sword in a similar manner.