LONDON – Few goalkeepers get the man-of-the-match award when their team wins 3-0. Petr Cech did just that on Sunday in Arsenal’s victory over Watford as he set a Premier League record for keeping a clean sheet.
The Czech Republic and former Chelsea ‘keeper also saved a penalty on his way to bringing up a 200th EPL clean sheet over the last 14 years. It was the first time the 35-year-old Cech has kept out a spot-kick since joining Arsenal in 2015.
“It’s an unbelievable personal milestone obviously,” Cech said. “We took only 18 games to get nine clean sheets at the start of the season and since then we’ve had to wait 11 games which is sometimes frustrating.”
Tottenham rallied to beat Bournemouth 4-1 in the day’s other match despite losing star Harry Kane to injury.
For Arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan each contributed a goal and an assist after Shkodran Mustafi’s header had given the Gunners an early lead in a clinical attacking display at the Emirates Stadium.
The scoreline was flattering for Arsenal, which ended a three-game Premier League losing streak, but Watford only had itself to blame after spurning multiple chances, most notably captain Troy Deeney’s tame penalty.
Arsenal was menacing in attack right from the start as Mesut Ozil slid Aubameyang through on goal within two minutes, only for Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis to make a good save with his legs.
Ozil wouldn’t be denied his 50th Premier League assist for long. The Germany midfielder became the fastest man to reach that milestone — in 141 games — when Mustafi headed in his precise free kick in the eighth minute.
As good as Arsenal was going forward, it was vulnerable at the other end. Watford should have leveled when Cech palmed Richarlison’s free kick into the path of Roberto Pereyra, who failed to direct the bouncing ball into an open goal.
Ozil had an equally good chance moments later as he glided into the penalty area before Karnezis made another fine save with his legs.
Watford controlled the game either side of halftime, but was punished for failing to make its dominance pay off when Aubameyang doubled the lead in the 59th as he rounded Karnezis after latching onto Mkhitaryan’s through ball.
Watford had the chance to pull a goal back instantly as Ashley Maitland-Niles brought down Pereyra. Deeney, who was extremely vocal with his criticism of Arsenal after the sides last met, was denied by Cech much to the delight of the Emirates crowd.
“He (Deeney) scored a penalty when we played the first game over there and he kind of surprised me that he shot the other side,” said Cech, who had 10 seasons and 162 clean sheets with Chelsea.
“Sometimes you just go and you have that feeling and today I felt it.”
The victory was finally sealed 13 minutes from the end, when Aubameyang set up Mkhitaryan for his first league goal in an Arsenal shirt.
Elsewhere in London, Tottenham’s campaign for a third consecutive top-four finish looked to be taking a serious hit with Kane injured and Spurs trailing by a goal.
But Mauricio Pochettino’s team had other ideas, delivering a stirring comeback.
Dele Alli equalized, before Son Heung-min struck twice and Serge Aurier nodded in to show Tottenham is far more than the “Harry Kane team,” as it was described by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola earlier this season.
Spurs moved into third, a point above Liverpool, and five points clear of fifth-place Chelsea. Eight rounds remain in the race for the four Champions League spots.
While Tottenham’s win keeps it in a strong position for now, it will desperately hope Kane is fit to return for its next league game, against Chelsea in three weeks’ time.
“I am concerned, until he has a scan tomorrow we cannot say nothing more,” Pochettino said. “We hope it’s not a massive issue for him and for the team and as soon as possible he can recover again and be available.”
The anxiety over Kane’s condition, after an apparent injury to his right ankle, won’t be limited to Tottenham. The Premier League’s joint top scorer — tied with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah with 24 goals this season — is expected to lead the attack for England at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
England’s opening game is against Tunisia in Volgograd on June 18th.