Arsenal’s Petr Cech dreams of ending career in Europa League glory

Amy Lawrence in Barysaw

After Arsenal landed in Belarus to begin the knockout stages of the Europa League against Bate Borisov, their goalkeeper Petr Cech, who retires at the end of the season, outlined his dream to bid farewell by winning the trophy.

“That would be an ideal scenario for me to finish my career,” he said. “We prepare every day for every competition and this is what we are aiming for. We try to win every game and progress step by step and as a club it is important for us to try to go as far as possible.

“Winning the Europa League is a great memory for everyone involved and secondly it can book you a place in the Champions League, so you can see there is a lot to play for.”

Cech, whose career has included 14 trophies and the accolade of being the most capped Czech footballer with 124 appearances, intends to savour every moment he gets on the pitch this season and give every last ounce of professionalism he has.

“I don’t think if it is my last game or not,” he said. “I prepare for every game like I did all through my career and I want to put the best performance on the pitch and win the game.”

With Bernd Leno taking over Premier League duties for Arsenal, the 36-year-old Cech is adopting the role of cup keeper and is highly focused on trying to help Arsenal go even further than they did last season in the Europa League, when they were beaten by the eventual winners, Atlético Madrid, in the semi-finals.

Cech is urging his team to step up a gear after a canter through the group stage. “We are the favourites for the tie but you have to do it on the pitch, be focused home and away, if you want to progress,” he said.

Unai Emery has brought a strong squad for the game against Bate Borisov. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang returns after illness but Mesut Özil, who was also off colour last weekend, did not make enough of a recovery to make the journey.

READ MORE: Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey signs four-year deal with Juventus

READ MORE: Arsenal ‘deserve’ Champions League football, says Torreira

Now Arsenal are out of both domestic cups, and with the search for a top-four finish an uncertain route back into the Champions League, the Europa League holds major significance in their ambitions for the remainder of the season.

“Our target is clear: to play next year in the Champions League,” Emery said. “But we know it’s not easy. We have two ways now, one is the Europa League, and to win it is very difficult. In the Premier League we also have the possibility. The big challenge is thinking only about the next match, improving individually and collectively, creating a big mentality for us.”

They take on a Bate team who have not played since December. They are in their pre-season and have had an overhaul of their squad, with seven departures and three players coming in. The midfielder Alexander Hleb, once of north London, is still playing at the age of 37.

Arsenal struck 10 goals past Bate when the teams met last season but they are taking nothing for granted. “Bate are involved in European competition every year and have a lot of experience playing in Europe, so it is not going to be easy,” Cech said.

Emery was also keen to point out that, even if it is snood weather, the conditions will not in any way phase Arsenal. When Chelsea visited last December Maurizio Sarri was not too impressed with the state of the pitch in the chilly Borisov Arena in Barysaw.

“We played against Vorskla in Kiev when it was snowing,” Emery said. “It’s not an excuse for us, the weather or the pitch. We play 90 minutes that are the same for them and for us.”

Bate Borisov (4-3-3, possible): Scherbitskiy; Ryas, Volkov, Filipenko, Filipovic; Yablonskiy, Drahun, Hleb; Stasevich, Skavysh, Mukhamedov Arsenal (4-2-3-1, possible): Cech; Maitland-Niles, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Xhaka, Guendouzi; Iwobi, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan; Aubameyang