Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno was Arsenal’s top goalkeeping target going into the summer, but the move appeared to be off after Napoli swooped in with the lure of Champion’s League football. But, reports on Tuesday night from Sport Bild, and on Wednesday morning from Sky Sports, revealed that this was not the case, and Arsenal are in advanced talks with the German stopper.
Leno, who has been selected in the Germany squad for the World Cup, had a €25m release clause, however this reportedly expired on 12th June. Despite this, Leverkusen are reportedly willing to sell him to Arsenal for something in the region of €20-25m, which would represent an absolute steal for a hugely experienced goalkeeper, who is still just 26 years of age.
So, what are Leno’s strengths, and what can he still improve upon?
Since making his debut for Leverkusen in 2011, Leno has gone on to make 304 appearances, never missing more than two league games in a season, showing himself to be a fit and reliable number one. With Arsenal’s injury record over the last decade, and the injuries suffered by Cech and Ospina last season, having an ever present goalkeeper will be a welcome addition.
Playing wise, Leno lists his reactions and stop stopping amongst his greatest assets, and is comparable to David De Gea in this sense. Like De Gea, Leno is known for making incredible reaction stops from close range, showing immense strength in the process. Again, this is something Arsenal have lacked with Petr Cech over the last few years, with his slowing reactions letting him down on numerous occasions.
Leno’s shot stopping ability comes down to two things – great positioning and unmatched bravery. Over the last few years, he has earned a reputation for diving head first into challenges, even using his face to block shots. Again, these are two areas that have let Cech down in recent years, so having a courageous, determined goal keeper will provide an instant impact at Arsenal.
In recent years, Arsenal’s ability to play it out from the back has been hindered by Cech’s woeful kicking displays. But, it’s hard to blame him for this. He spent 10 years at Chelsea, a club that have spent hundreds of millions to play long ball football! With Leno, Arsenal will finally have a keeper who is composed in possession, and is comfortable starting counter attacks with the ball at his feet. With so much attacking talent at the club, this could be a major boost going into next season.
Despite earning a reputation as one of the best young goalkeepers in world football, Leno is not shy to a mistake, with only Oliver Baumann (10) making more errors leading to an opposition goal in the Bundesliga since 2015/16 than Bernd Leno (9). This stat is not a kind one, but it is worth noting that no keeper has played more games than Leno during this time, so it’s worth looking at his ratio of games to mistakes.
Unlike outfield players, when a goalkeeper makes a mistake, there is a much higher chance of the ball ending up in the back of the net, so this is something Leno must address quickly. But, at 26, this should improve rapidly as his concentration and reading of the game will advance drastically during his prime years.
These individual errors have often centred around Leno’s ability to save long shots. At times, he’s been guilty of trying to catch, rather than punch or palm a serving ball, resulting in it spinning out of his hands. Again, this comes down to concentration and experience, and with strong focus from Arsenal’s new goalkeeping coach Javi Garcia, these issues can be ironed out quickly.
Overall, Leno would be an absolutely top class addition for Arsenal, bringing plenty of strengths, and any weakness can be ironed out with hard work and coaching. On the pitch he’s a very vocal character, a real leader, but off it, he’s known to be quite shy. This leadership will further add to the additions of Lichtsteiner and Sokratis, and shows that Arsenal are making a conscious effort to address the lack of voices in the dressing room.