Over the years, goalkeepers such as Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone and Ospina were all simply not good enough. Szczesny certainly had potential but was far too rash, impulsive and didn’t command his area. And Cech never provided us with the desired consistency which was required and made frequent mistakes, particularly in his penultimate season (2017/18) with us .
Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure that Bernd could be the answer to solve our problems, and whether he would be the right successor to Petr Cech. If you analyse the Germans performances during the latter stages of his Bayern Leverkusen career ,his levels stagnated. But with two seasons of top flight English football now under his belt, his consistency has been incredible and the £19.3M investment that was initially needed to acquire his services looks like an absolute steel. Especially when you consider that Chelsea spent £72M on Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has been a car crash of a signing.
During his first year in England, there were plenty of positives to take from Leno’s performances. Emery initially favoured Cech as the number one with Bernd playing in the League Cup and Europa League group stage games. Petr’s injury against Watford at home, meant the German was given the opportunity to cement himself in the starting eleven. I was at the game and he performed brilliantly, making a crucial second half stop to deny Troy Deeney. Since then, he has continued to make outstanding saves, showcase incredible reflexes and provide us with the consistency that we lacked with previous goalkeepers.
What we all must remember is that keepers will always make mistakes. But what separates the elite ones from the good ones is the reaction after making an error. Are you able to put it to the back of your mind? Or will that mistake become a common trend? What Leno showed us was that errors would not affect his game and hamper his consistency. An example is in the game against Southampton away, where the German internationals mistake allowed Austin to grab the winner. But what really impressed me about him was the reaction after making this error, and his ability to continue to provide us with great displays, with his next big mistakes coming against Wolves, which was a game that came four months later.
There were plenty of elite performances from the German international in his first season. Our 2-0 win against Manchester United at home and the 1-1 draw at Wembley vs Spurs, where he made that outrageous double save, are two standout performances that springs to mind.
Games against Leicester away and Everton away are examples of where he prevented us from being on the receiving end of cricket scores. Overall, from my perspective, it was a very encouraging first season from our 6ft 3in german stopper.
Whilst his first campaign was good, his second was even better. Under Emery and Ljungberg, the lack of structure and balance both in and out of possession was evident. Regularly, the distances between the back line and midfield were far too big which allowed opposing teams to easily transition from defence to attack. This was why Leno was facing continuous shots on goal and ranked 7th in the Premier League last season in terms of saves made across all keepers within the division. Watford away, Southampton at home, Leicester away, Wolves at home, Norwich away are all games in which he was overworked and kept the score line down.
The moment our young, exciting Spanish coach took over at the helm, Leno hasn’t been as active because of the significant improvements in our shape, structure and balance. But when called upon, he continued to deliver top performances, with brilliant displays on show at home games against Everton and West Ham. It’s safe to say that since he arrived at the club in 2018, he has provided us with the reliability that was required.
The power of the loan system! You would certainly not have thought that he would still be here at Arsenal, with the opportunity of playing regular football. Especially when you go back to 2012 and analyse his shocking display against Reading in the League Cup.
What I admire about Emi is that he has always reiterated his desire to be our no.1 goalkeeper and believed in his ability. Loans spells at Oxford, Sheffield United, Rotherham, Wolves, Getafe and Reading has allowed him to learn his trade elsewhere and improve on his overall play. These spells at clubs away from the Emirates has significantly benefited him and has quickened his development. We now have a goalkeeper who I believe is capable of becoming our first choice.
When Leno sustained his injury at Brighton, I feared we would miss him hugely because of the consistency he provided us with. But Martinez came in, realising that this was his opportunity to showcase his ability to Arteta. And its safe to say, he simply hasn’t put a foot wrong, making a number of vital saves. FA cup quarter final against Sheffield United, Southampton away in the League, Manchester City in the semi final, Chelsea in the final, Liverpool in the Community Shield are all games where he has made crucial stops during key moments in the game. The cohesion and organisation installed within the team has defensively improved post lockdown, with Emi certainly benefiting from this, hence why he wasn’t facing shots as frequently to what Leno was. But a key aspect in a goalkeeper that is required is the ability to maintain concentration levels. Martinez showed us that he could make those important saves when the team needed him, in certain games where didn’t have much to do.
Leno vs Martinez
Statistical comparison in the 2019/20 Premier league season
Goals conceded per game: 1.3
Save percentage: 74.2%
Saves made per game: 3.8
Pass completion rate: 72.2%
Launched pass completion rate: 29.3%
Goals conceded per game: 1.05
Save percentage: 81.8%
Saves made per game: 4.3
Pass completion rate: 72.4%
Launched pass completion: 35.2%
Three aspects should be used to provide judgment on modern day goalkeepers. Shot stopping ability, commanding your area and distribution.
With regards to shot stopping, Leno does have the edge in my opinion, despite his save percentage (74.2%) being slightly lower than Martinez (81.8%).
In terms of commanding their box, dealing with crosses and set pieces, Martinez is far superior in this aspect. This is largely because of his frame, which is tailored to the Premier League. What I love about the Argentinian is that when the opportunity arises to catch the ball, whether it’s from crosses or corners, he does it comfortably, which eases the pressure of the defence and allows us to regain our shape. Leno prefers to punch the ball, which means that there is the likelihood of us having to deal with the second phase, if the opposition regain possession from the initial clearance.
Distribution/playing out from the back is a fundamental trait needed in a goalkeeper in order for sides to implement a possession based style of football, which Arteta is clearly looking to install. Currently, Martinez has the edge over Bernd. Very calm on the ball when put under pressure, providing us with two avenues to build passages of play. Can easily lay it short to teammates when under pressure but can also ping a long pass, allowing us to transition further up. Bernd certainly doesn’t provide the same composure when on the ball, and isn’t as accurate as Martinez in terms of successful long passes, as shown in the statistics and diagram above. But its an element that can be worked on, especially since he is working under our exciting goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana Pavon , who was very successful during his time at Brentford.
Overall, I would say that Martinez is currently the more rounded keeper. The uncertainty around the Argentinian is that the sample size of consecutive games is smaller when compared to Leno. We also don’t know how he will react to a mistake. But I believe players should play on merit and until Emi gives Arteta a reason to drop him, he should remain in the team and start against Fulham on Saturday. But I think we can all agree that we have two outstanding stoppers!
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23 years of age, 23 years as a Gooner. Arsenal runs through my veins and it pains me to see the current position and state of the club. Reading many football articles over the years has inspired me to write blogs containing Arsenal analysis. I’ve always wanted my fellow Gooners to be aware of my thoughts and opinions of ‘The Arsenal’ and thanks to Dave and Paul, I now have a platform which makes this possible.