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FEATURE | Bernd Leno – Arsenal have purchased themselves a great shot-stopper, but not the finished product

Much like any other big club, Arsenal have a history of top goalkeepers as well as some underwhelming ones. Arsenal’s recent struggles between the sticks saw names more towards the underwhelming side after Jens Lehmann left the club. Manuel Almunia, Łukasz Fabiański and fellow Poland international Wojciech Szczęsny all were given ample amount of time and chances to settle in and show their best form, which never happened at the Emirates Stadium.

Their search seemed to have halted for a while when Arsene Wenger managed to convince Chelsea legend Petr Cech to move from West London to North London. Cech, who had been replaced by Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea, was dubbed “good enough to win them 15 points a season.”

Cech has been a decent goalkeeper for Arsenal, albeit never reaching the standards he set at Chelsea. One thing that the Czech legend proved was that Arsenal’s defensive problems were not wholly down to the goalkeeper. With Cech turning 36 in May and declining, with a new structure and era at Arsenal under Unai Emery, it is the right time for Arsenal to move on and search for a new number 1.

The Premier League legend may have been given the number one jersey for next season, but the Czech Republic goalkeeper has spoken against Wenger and Arsenal’s policy of rotating ‘keepers between competitions. David Ospina almost made a move away from the club last summer and looks set to be making a move away from Arsenal this time around.

Emery is a coach who likes his teams to press without the ball and have possession. In both cases, the keeper needs to be quick off his line and good with the ball at his feet. This was seen in Emery’s PSG days when he replaced a more orthodox Salvatore Sirigu with a ‘modern’ Kevin Trapp.

Posed with a similar situation at his new club, Emery has decided on Bayer Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno, who the detailed and thorough tactician expects to ‘lead’ his new look Arsenal side. Also, Arsenal conceded 51 goals in the Premier League last season. The highest amount of goals conceded by a top-four team was 38 goals, by fourth-placed Liverpool.

Head of recruitment Sven Mislintat’s first choice was Leno, whose transfer was made official last night. Mislintat’s immense knowledge of the Bundesliga thanks to his Borussia Dortmund days seem to have helped Leno.

Joining Bayer Leverkusen from Stuttgart in 2011 initially on loan, Leno has made 304 appearances for the Bundesliga club. He made his debut almost immediately and became just the third goalkeeper to keep clean sheets in his first three Bundesliga matches. He also became the then youngest goalkeeper to play in the UEFA Champions League in 2011 when he played vs Chelsea.

Despite his promise and undeniable talent, Leno has stalled in the past few seasons at Leverkusen. He looked to move last summer, but Rudi Völler asked him to stay as the club did not have a suitable replacement. This year, they have signed ex-Eintracht Frankfurt keeper Lukas Hradecky, which allowed Leno to leave.

Modelling his game after his idol, Iker Casillas, Leno is a brilliant shot stopper with great reactions and instincts. He is a good judge on the situations in a one vs one setting, often deciding correctly whether to charge or hold. He likes to command his box, which will please Emery. He can distribute the ball from the back very well and he possesses fantastic agility.

In short, he has all the raw tools to make his one of the best keepers around. He kept 10 clean sheets for Bayer last season in 33 games and since the start of 14/15 season, Leno has the second highest clean sheets in the Bundesliga, behind only Manuel Neuer. Yet, questions remain over his positioning at times. But the bigger worry for Arsenal would be questions over his concentration levels, which affect his handling.

With Arsenal retaining the ball more than Bayer, Leno’s weaknesses would be under focus more than ever. Leno is an error-prone keeper, making two errors in Germany’s 3-2 win over Australia at the Confederations Cup in 2017; and since the start of the 2015/16 season, only Oliver Baumann of Hoffenheim has made more errors leading to opposition goals than Leno. It is this Achilles heel which is probably the reason he isn’t in Russia.

However, Leno is only 26. In goalkeeper terms, that is young. He can improve and develop into the long-term No. 1 at Arsenal and his talents make him an investment worth making and a risk worth taking for the North London side.

By Vishvaraj Chauhan.

 

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