Picking the Arsenal Man of the Match after they get shut out in a North London Derby feels about as trivial an exercise as might exist, but truth be told, there were a few players who did give a noble effort in defeat. Hector Bellerin, so often a magnet of the supporters’ ire, worked his legs to the bone on the right side of the Arsenal defence, holding firm when put under tremendous pressure from Heung-Min Son in the first half, and limiting his marauding runs to avoid getting caught up the pitch . Shkodran Mustafi and Jack Wilshere were as active and aggressive as you would expect from two of your gutsiest players in a big match as well. However, the only man that can truly be considered Arsenal’s Man of the Match is the one that kept the score respectable at Wembley: goalkeeper Petr Cech.
The only goal that managed to get by the 35 year old Czech stopper was a perfectly placed Harry Kane header, as the Premier League’s leading scorer rose above Laurent Koscielny and redirected the inch perfect ball into the corner of the net. Had that deciding goal not nestled itself into the Arsenal goal, Cech very well might have been the headline player of the match, with save after save coming from sure-fire scoring opportunities from Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Cech was on his angles all afternoon, squared to every Tottenham shooter and active when crosses came deep enough into his area to claim. He has been attacking crosses more often since the beginning of 2018, as the team in front of him has continued to lose aerial duels in the box and allow would-be crossers far too much space down the flanks. Kane’s goal was not one of those situations however; the in-swinging ball from Ben Davies had excellent pace and bend, and came from a deeper position, giving Cech no opportunity to come out and make a play.
Chrstian Eriksen’s free kick might have been Cech’s best save of the night, coming from a position just on the edge of the penalty area where the Dane has had tremendous success from in the past. His shot was exactly where he wanted it too: arcing with pace away from Cech as it cleared the Arsenal wall and dialed in on the top left corner. Cech followed it the whole way, his cat-like leap enough to nudge the ball away from his goal and out for a corner. His big saves on Alli and Kane were similarly dramatic, and kept a depressing weekend from becoming an outright embarrassment.
Petr Cech has been criticised a lot for his perceived decline since arriving at the club 2 and a half years ago. At 35, he naturally is not the athlete that he was in his prime years at Chelsea, but matches like Saturday show that he can still make important saves when he has to. In truth, Cech has been let down by consistently porous defences in his time at Arsenal, where he has been repeatedly left to make difficult saves by the attack-minded team in front of him. It has now been 9 matches since Cech last recorded a clean sheet, the longest such streak of his career. The drought comes as he sits on 199 clean sheets in the Premier League, waiting to be the first ever to hit 200 in the English top flight. It was a miserable day for both club and supporters, and one the Petr Czech himself will not fondly remember, but for being the best of a bad bunch, he is your Man of the Match.