Bernd Leno is Keeping Arsenal in Champions League Hunt

Arsenal‘s 1-0 victory over West Ham on Saturday was their third consecutive Premier League win and meant that their unbeaten record in the top flight this year stayed intact.

Bernd Leno is Keeping Arsenal in Champions League Hunt

On the face of it, it seems as if the Gunners may have turned a corner. They have now lost fewer league games than Manchester City, Leicester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United this season and have now brought themselves back into contention for a place in the Champions League. Throw in an FA Cup quarter-final against Sheffield United and there is still plenty to play for.

Yet a deeper look into Arsenal’s matches suggests that, although the results are now coming, the performances are still far from where manager Mikel Arteta wants them to be. The win against the West Ham was against the run of play if anything. The Hammers had some excellent chances and ended up with 14 shots, six of which were on target, to the home side’s nine. They really should have come away with something.

The fact they did not was largely down to Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno, who made six saves in a commanding display. His smothering of the ball to deny Sebastian Haller a clean run at goal was a sharp piece of work, while his one-handed stop from a Michael Antonio header at point-blank range was the save of the match.

This was not a one-off, either. Performances like these have been a regular occurrence for Leno this season and the stats prove it. Only Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka has made more saves than the German’s 103 this season, with 52 of those coming inside the penalty area.

His reflexes and shot-stopping ability are particularly crucial to this Arsenal side, who are still suffering from fragility and mistakes at the back. The Gunners are conceding 14.8 shots per match – the most of any side in the top half of the table. They also rank in the bottom half for tackles per game (16.2). Leno has been one of the busiest goalkeepers this season and is standing up to the task.

The fact that Arteta wants Leno to be involved in more competitions speaks volumes for the German’s form. “I have been really pleased with his performances and I have been really pleased with the person that I am getting to know, how professional he is as well,” the Spaniard said of Leno at the end of February.

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“The club was playing four competitions, one of the goalkeepers was playing three and Bernd was playing one. I wanted a little bit more balance at the moment and that’s it. Bernd at the moment is number one. If Emi (Martinez) oversteps him then he will be number one. Whoever I think is better to play, he will play. I think that position is evolving as the rest of the game is evolving and other positions are evolving too.”

Leno’s shot-stopping has been impressive but what about his ability on the ball? It is no secret that Arteta wants Arsenal to continue to play out from the back and, despite issues with a similar style under Unai Emery, there has been an improvement in their passing game. That starts with the Leno.

Of goalkeepers in the league this season, only Brighton’s Matt Ryan has made more accurate short passes than Leno’s 461. In addition, 28-year-old has the second-fewest number of accurate long-balls (74), further emphasising the preference of building attacks from his own half. He also ranks in the top five for total touches (1,095) by keepers this campaign.

Leno’s presence in the penalty area is now improving, too. He sits fifth for number of high claims (17) in 2019/20, while only Crystal Palace’s Vicente Guaita has made more punches than his 17. It is no wonder Arsenal legend Ian Wright recently labeled Leno the club’s “saviour”, and former Gunners’ defender Martin Keown has been impressed too.

“Leno has been quite a success story, coming into Petr Cech, they are big boots to fill and I think he has done that successfully,” Keown told BT Sport.

Despite his excellent statistics, Leno’s Arsenal career has not been without its fair share of difficulty. By the end of 2019, he had made seven errors directly leading to an opposition goal in the Premier League since the beginning of the 2018/19 season – the most of any player.

Leno’s failure to judge the flight of a cross against Chelsea, which left Jorginho to tap into an empty net was a key mistake, while his panic on the ball in his own box resulted in a corner for Olympiakos which led to the Greeks scoring the goal which knocked Arsenal out of the Europa League at the Emirates.

Despite him still being prone to mistakes, the fact that Leno has not made an error leading to a goal since the turn of the year proves that he is learning from them. The overarching point, however, is that he has been one of Arsenal’s best performers this season and the club have a lot to thank him for.

Leno is a goalkeeper on the up and he is keeping his side’s Champions League hopes alive.

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