Cech will help Arsenal become 'invincible': Keown

Czech soccer player Petr Cech shows his Arsenal jersey during his presentation in Prague July 1, 2015.
Czech soccer player Petr Cech shows his Arsenal jersey during his presentation in Prague July 1, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

Martin Keown knows a solid rear-guard when he sees one.

After all, the 48-year-old had played in some of the meanest Arsenal defences in the 1990s and early 2000s.

So few will doubt his words when he insists that, with the £11 million (S$23.1 million) signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea, the Gunners just need minor tweaks to spearhead a title challenge in the upcoming English Premier League (EPL) season.

"If you look at the individuals, Arsenal are very strong defensively," said the three-time EPL winner during a phone interview with The Straits Times yesterday.

"Laurent Koscielny is vastly under-rated and Per Mertesacker brings a calmness to the defence.

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"With Cech coming in, they will be very competitive next season.

"I hope they can get more consistent. Manager (Arsene) Wenger will be working on that."

Rated as one of the club's finest centre-backs, Keown formed a formidable defensive backline with Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon which conceded only 17 league goals in the 1998-99 season.

Yet, even that mean defence could not land Arsenal the league title, as they finished second behind Manchester United that season.

Keown believes that, aside from a strong defence line, title-winning teams also display mental strength in abundance, something which is not usually associated with the Gunners in recent years.

They are still liable to collapse mentally, such as when they let in three goals at home against Monaco in last season's fruitless Champions League campaign.

Vice-captain Mertesacker had questioned his side's resilience after that galling loss but Keown believes it is only a matter of time before Arsenal rediscover their mental strength.

"A lot of it comes when one goes a long time without winning trophies," he noted.

"There will be regrets for them in the Champions League (but) that invincibility feeling is one which takes time to grow.

"This group is starting to achieve that, I can see that steeliness in the team and players being more physical.

"I'm a lot more convinced now but it's whether or not they can find the right consistency and get the right results.

"For example, to win the league next season, they possibly need to beat Chelsea at least once."

While Keown might be best remembered for his achievements in North London, it was in Merseyside where he made a name for himself, winning the first of his 43 England caps during his stint at Everton from 1989 to 1993.

Not surprisingly, he still follows the club, and was disappointed with their 11th-place finish in the EPL last season.

"There is a great deal of talent there," he said. "But they were passing far too much last season. Manager (Roberto) Martinez lost his way, and they need to be more direct."

Both Everton and Arsenal, as well as Stoke City, will arrive in Singapore for the Barclays Asia Trophy tournament on July 15 and 18, and Keown believes it will be a treat for the fans in this region.

"A lot of top players will be coming and they will be vying for places (in the starting 11) for the coming season."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'Cech will help Arsenal become 'invincible': Keown'. Print Edition | Subscribe