Analysing Bernd Leno’s growth over the season
Bernd Leno arrived at Arsenal in the summer. There were various questions raised about paying 22 million Euros for a goalkeeper, who despite breaking into Bayer Leverkusen‘s squad early, had not been the most convincing over the past few seasons. Leno started behind Petr Cech in the pecking order, with his appearances being limited to the Europa League. Now in March, Leno is the undisputed starter in the Premier League and his acquisition looks to be a smart piece of business by Arsenal as the German has really evolved into a reliable presence in goal.
Adapting to the physicality
One area where goalkeepers who transfer to the Premier League really struggle is the physicality of the league itself. We’ve seen this with the likes of David De Gea and Hugo Lloris who came to England with big reputations but struggled initially. Initially, Leno did not look too assuring. With Petr Cech being preferred over the German, it was obvious that Leno was being given time to adapt. Leno’s first few games in the Premier League were a mixed bag. While he didn’t commit any glaring errors, he did look quite nervy at times, especially when dealing with corners and free-kicks. An important advantage that Cech brings to the side is his ability to catch aerial balls rather than parry them, something which Leno actively avoids. The German prefers to punch balls clear which brought a bit of uncertainty to the defending. However, as we approach the end of the season, it is obvious that Leno has adapted himself to the physicality of the league. Premier League referees are less inclined to give fouls for physically robust challenges and Leno has understood this by being more aggressive in punching aerial balls and coming off his line.
Better positioning and reflexes
Leno’s performances, especially over the past few months have been excellent. The German keeper was key in Arsenal’s wins over big sides like Manchester United and Chelsea and was fantastic in the draw away to Tottenham. A striking aspect of his goalkeeping is the positions he takes up when faced with a threat. Leno offers a significant upgrade on Cech in terms of his athleticism and speed. He’s quick off his line and capable of playing as a sweeper, unlike Cech who is far more reserved in his movements and ball-playing. Leno’s anticipation and ability to make reflex saves have stood out since the German became a regular starter in the side. Some of his saves, including the spectacular double-save against Tottenham and a string of great saves against Manchester United, illustrated that Leno is no slouch when it comes to pulling off a blinder. More than his reflexes, his anticipation towards a shot on target is quite impressive as he sets himself up to expect a shot early so that he can make appropriate movements as the situation demands. Looking at the stats, Leno averages 3.49 saves per game, more than Hugo Lloris. The German’s claims success is 0.46. In comparison, Lloris and De Gea average 0.43 and 0.25 respectively. Leno is also significantly better at distribution and goal kicks.
Playing out from the back
The first few games of the season represented difficult times to Unai Emery’s philosophy of playing out from the back and utilizing the goalkeeper as an outfield player. Leno’s impact in this aspect cannot be understated. The German’s agility and speed, as well as his comfort on the ball, are remarkable. This means that he is a far better option than Cech in goal when it comes to implementing Emery’s philosophy. A common feature of Arsenal’s buildup is the centre-backs shifting to the edges of the penalty box in order to create a passing option. Leno’s guile allows him to move the ball around more with his feet to favourable positions before looking for a pass. While Cech is undoubtedly a legend of the game, Leno is far more suited to the demands of this current Arsenal side in terms of contributing to the buildup.
Looking at the future, it seems clear that Leno is good enough to be Arsenal’s number one for quite a few years to come. A better goalkeeping coach has done a world of good for the keepers at Arsenal and despite Petr Cech’s imminent retirement, Arsenal look set in the goalkeeping department for years to come.