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5 key matches for Arsenal

Arsenal
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 By Tom Adams

Arsenal's Petr Cech can emulate Eric Cantona impact at Man United

Petr Cech is a man who treasures his legacy. When your wife bakes you a cake to mark the fact you have just equalled the Premier League record for clean sheets, it is clear that leaving your name in the history books is something of a priority.

So it may be of interest to the Arsenal goalkeeper, who leads the clean sheet table again this season as he is level on 10 with Joe Hart, that another record is in his sights. A rather more unique achievement which carries even greater weight.

If Arsenal can hold on to their place at the top of the table and win the title this season, Cech would become the first player since Eric Cantona in 1993 to win the league title in successive years with two different clubs. Cantona achieved this rare feat in the first season of the Premier League but it is a record which, unlike many cited in football, extends beyond the birth of the new division.

In fact, Cantona is the only man in the history of English league football to have accomplished the feat. Winning back-to-back titles with Leeds United and Manchester United stands alone in the great history of the English game.

There are some significant parallels between Cantona and Cech, albeit not in any superficial category such as their position, style or personality. Cantona might be the greatest enigma to have played the game in England, a compelling cocktail of aggression and philosophy; Cech is a man who gets a cake baked for him when he celebrates keeping a clean sheet and plays the drums.

But where the two men correlate is in their move from one regional rival to another, and the transformative effect they have had on their new teammates.

The signing of Cantona was the most important Sir Alex Ferguson ever made. The Frenchman helped deliver Ferguson's first league title and four in the first five years of the Premier League, and it is widely acknowledged that the effect he had on his colleagues in the dressing room was absolutely essential to this golden era of United success.

"If ever there was one player, anywhere in the world, that was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona," Ferguson once said. "He swaggered in, stuck his chest out, raised his head and surveyed everything as though he were asking: 'I'm Cantona. How big are you? Are you big enough for me?"

Setting a technical example in training and bringing the best out of his teammates with his ability to lay on the perfect pass or guide them into certain areas of the pitch, Cantona was the archetypal rising tide which lifts all boats. "Gradually," said Gary Pallister, "it dawned on us that he was having a profound impact on the side."

Arsenal players talk about Cech with a similar reverence. But where Cantona sharpened technique and raised performance standards, Arsenal's goalkeeper has sharpened minds and fortified belief, if people at Arsenal are to be understood.

Theo Walcott was not the first to point out the galvanising effect Cech has had on the team when speaking after some excellent saves helped secure a 0-0 draw against Stoke City at the weekend.

"The mental strength in our dressing room is the strongest it has ever been," he said. "When you have the likes of Petr Cech coming in as well, he only enhances that. He has lifted everybody's heads up, saying this is a very good point and that nobody tends to win here. We just have to look at him because he has been at the top level and won many things so if we have the belief that he has got, we can push on."

It is a theme Arsene Wenger also picked up on in December. "He has brought his experience, his calm and his leadership," said Wenger. "He [David Ospina] was exceptional last year. But Petr Cech has done it all, so he is someone who gives you an aura... a charisma that is always important in big games. You always look around the dressing room before a big game and you think, 'Are we strong enough?' And these kind of faces help you to believe it."

After winning their last league title in 2004, Arsenal seemed to embark on a project of wilfully culling such experience from their squad. In fact, within three years of their "Invincibles" season, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Lauren had all departed, leaving a leadership vacuum in their place.

The Gunners have lacked title-winning nous ever since. But if Arsenal can enjoy a resounding victory over Chelsea at the weekend -- the team Cech won the league with last season -- then their goalkeeper will have moved a significant step closer to emulating Cantona, in more ways than one.

Tom Adams is the deputy editor of eurosport.co.uk. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport

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