Do Arsenal have their long-term number one in place?
Unai Emery’s first six months in charge of Arsenal have been largely positive, he’s taken the squad by the scruff of the neck and it’s clear to most that he’s trying to stamp his own image on the club and instil the belief that the current crop of players can play football the Arsenal way.
One area in particular that he sought to address from the off was goalkeeper distribution. Unai Emery likes to play the ball out from the back, and thus his goalkeepers have to be competent footballers and accurate passers. Petr Cech began the season as the number one between the sticks, but although he remains a decent shot-stopper it was clear Cech did not have the technical capabilities with the ball at his feet to play Emery’s style of football.
After the Czech veteran injured himself against Watford earlier in the season, new signing Bernd Leno who had bided his time patiently away form the spotlight, entered the fold and seemed to take to Emery’s footballing philosophy a lot more naturally.
Since then, Leno’s performances have earned rave reviews from former Gunner’s goalkeeping great David Seaman:
“So far he has been brilliant. I don’t know what footed he is because he is that good with both. The only way you can tell is if he takes a goal‑kick. I am impressed by his shot-stopping ability and the other thing I like about him is he gets on with the save. He doesn’t try to make it look flash.”
Clean sheets have been hard to come by for the German this season, in fact he has only kept one in 15 Premier League appearances. But with a whole host of defensive injuries already this campaign, Leno has rarely had the luxury of playing behind a settled back three or four.
There’s no denying there have been moments of concern and Leno’s performances have been far from faultless. The error against Arsenal at the Emirates for James Milner’s goal and more recently his positioning for Charlie Austin’s winner at Southampton, are two which come to mind. As is their way, the media have been quick to jump on these incidents and ramp up the pressure. Rumours continue to circle around interest in Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas but Emery has been quick to rubbish the story.
Leno clearly has genuine ability with the ball at his feet and that, combined with the smart shot-stopping he has already demonstrated, suggests that he can grow into his role at Arsenal and become a club stalwart, in much the same way as he did at Bayer Leverkusen.