LONDON • When Arsenal signed goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea in June, it felt like December to the Gunners faithful.
"The Arsenal fans thought it was Christmas," the club's goalkeeping great Bob Wilson said.
The £10.9 million (S$23.3 million) acquisition has been hailed as the final piece of the London club's title-winning jigsaw, and it is easy to see why.
THREE KEYS TO THE SEASON
1 A strong start. The Gunners’ title hopes last season were wounded by an awful beginning, claiming just 17 points from their opening 12 games.
2 Consistent performances from Mesut Oezil now that the World Cup winner has been promised his favourite No. 10 role.
3 Continuing to get goals from all sources. Arsenal had over 20 different goal-scorers last season – more than any other Premier League club.
THREE QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
1 Can they win the big games? Last term, Arsenal took only 11 points against top-six opponents, winning just twice. Only Tottenham picked up fewer points in the mini league.
2 Having last won the league in 2004 with their Invincibles, will Arsenal have the belief that they can go all the way?
3 Can the squad avoid another injury crisis? Over the last five seasons, Arsenal players have been sidelined for an average of 2,047 days a campaign
Arsenal's inability to replace former keeper Jens Lehmann adequately following his departure in 2008 had prevented them from laying the foundations from which to build a title-challenging side.
Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina have filled the void with limited success. However, they lacked presence and were guilty of high-profile errors which undermined Arsenal's title desires.
Cech, however, arrives with an undoubted presence, having secured his status as one of Europe's premier stoppers for over a decade.
The 114-cap Czech international possesses a wealth of experience and winning mentality having won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and the Champions League and Europa League during 11 seasons at Stamford Bridge.
He can only improve an Arsenal defensive unit that was the third stingiest in the league last season, conceding 36 goals.
That Cech has so far been the only signing Arsene Wenger has made is also an indication of the manager's belief in the squad.
Last season, they finished third behind champions Chelsea and Manchester City.
Wenger thinks this group have an unusually strong sense of togetherness that has gained depth over time. He is impressed by how the players have improved, individually and collectively.
He likes the way their hunger has been tweaked by winning the FA Cup two years in a row - giving them a taste for more success.
He enjoys the blend that brings together high-profile buys such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Oezil, total surprises such as Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin, and a British core such as Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey.
Stability has been the name of the game over this close season.
This squad have come a long way since 2012 when Robin van Persie left for Manchester United and a title medal.
From that summer to this, the calibre of major players coming in, as epitomised by Santi Cazorla, Oezil, Sanchez and now Cech, has given incremental boosters.
Upon signing for the club, Cech said: "Last season, it was a great season (for Arsenal), but there was something missing, just a little last jump over the hurdle."
He has all the attributes to be the man to carry the club over that final hurdle.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN