The 6-0 win in the midweek Champions League game moved Thibaut Courtois equal 10th in Chelsea history for total of clean sheets.
The 25-year-old has played fewer games for the club than all those above him, including the man with whom he is tied on 41 clean sheets, Dave Beasant, and the goalkeeper at the top of the list who is likely to be his opposite number on the pitch today, Petr Cech. In third place is another familiar name to Courtois and the one in the top 10 with the greatest percentage of clean sheets, Carlo Cudicini, a current member of Antonio Conte’s backroom staff.
When it comes to individual statistics, footballers will often play down the significance in favour of team results, personal goal tallies being a good example, but clean sheets are a team statistic as well as a goalkeeping one, and they do guarantee a draw from a game at the very least.
‘For the team it means that we defended well and did a good job and when you are winning 1-0, it is obviously important to not concede,’ Courtois tells the official Chelsea website as he considers the subject, ‘but you might have a game when you win 4-1 or 2-1 and you made five amazing saves and you conceded one.
‘For instance, my game for Belgium against Greece recently, we won 1-2 and I did a few very good saves so I had a very good feeling after that game, and for example against Everton we won 2-0 and I made one easy save.
‘Nowadays, a lot is said about the statistics and you see them compared everywhere, and it is nice to have them, it is nice to have a lot of clean sheets but it depends on how you defend as a team, it is not only the goalkeeper.
‘Everywhere you go clean sheets is one of the first things people will say to you about as well. I don’t go crazy about it, the most important always is to win but if you keep a clean sheet you only need one goal to win so that is good, but nowadays in football it is not easy to not concede all game and even if you are the dominant team, you always have the risk of a counter-attack.’
Looking back to last autumn, it was a run of six clean sheets in a row in winning performances that really got our league championship season up and running, and although we did concede last weekend at Leicester, the past two games at Stamford Bridge have been shut-outs.
‘Last season those six games meant we were defending well and doing our job and that is what we try to do this season as well,’ agrees Courtois. ‘Unfortunately against Leicester I made a penalty because otherwise I don’t think we would concede a goal because we were defending well. The feeling was good so this weekend against Arsenal we could do the same.’
Although he was involved in the penalty that led to Leicester’s goal, the Belgian more than played his part in the win by making an excellent save from Islam Slimani. How did that compare with his very best for the Blues?
‘It maybe ranks as an important save but it is just the start of the season so it is hard to compare with the importance of the others,’ Courtois decides. ‘But it was 0-0 and only moments later we scored so that was an important save, it was a good one, a one-v-one and I made a good position, I did everything right, I had my hands well placed.’
Courtois has already mentioned the prevalence of football statistics these days and there was one in the wake of the Qarabag win during the week that raised some smiles, with his roll-out to Davide Zappacosta prior to the wing-back’s long run down the length of the pitch and long-range goal highlighted as the first assist by a keeper in the Champions League for five years.
‘It counts as an assist but it is funny and you can have banter about it,’ he says. ‘But for me as a goalkeeper, if you give an assist by a long ball and it is really that you have played the team-mate in behind the defenders, it is obviously better. Sometimes you see the statistics on something like the strikers but you can hardly compare and say he is better. I don’t think we should go blind on statistics. I think football in the end is a game.’
However one statistic we do want to see achieved today is the clean sheet that will take Courtois clear as our 10th highest in that count, and greatly help with the task of overcoming Arsenal.
‘We have played Arsenal a lot recently,’ he notes. ‘This season in the Community Shield and in pre-season and last season the last game, and the last game against them in the league was February as well which was not long ago, so we know them well and it will be a tough game.
‘It is a derby and obviously they want to win, they did not have a great start and we have had better start than them, and they don’t want to see rivals go further away, so they need to win. They will be sharp to try to win the game.
‘In the Community Shield I think we played a good game, it was unfortunate about the penalties but in the end we did a good game and I hope we can do the same this time.’