Arsenal’s Bernd Leno on Watford, replacing Petr Cech and what Unai Emery told him when he signed

The goalkeeper knows that the injury suffered by Cech presents him with an opportunity

Luke Brown
Sunday 30 September 2018 16:47
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Bernd Leno had spent weeks impatiently waiting for his first taste of Premier League action and yet when his moment finally arrived, he wanted wanted nothing more than for it to be immediately over.

“It was a very difficult moment because I was sat on the bench and it was a little bit cold, and I hoped the referee would finish the half but he didn’t, so there was one minute more,” he admitted after replacing a hamstrung Petr Cech late into the first-half against Watford.

“I was happy when it was half-time, so I had fifteen minutes to warm up and concentrate on the game. It was a clean sheet, we won, so it was a good day for me.”

It’s fair to say Leno hasn't had it easy since arriving in London this summer. A first-team regular at Bayer Leverkusen and a Germany international, he had not anticipated playing second fiddle when Arsenal made him in the sixth most expensive goalkeeper of all-time. He has been made to wait for his chance, regularly meeting with new manager Unai Emery to receive reassurance that his time will come.

Leno made a superb one-handed save to deny Deeney

Only nobody expected it to come almost exactly halfway through Saturday’s match with Watford, the score at that point still goalless and with Arsenal on the back foot. And it wasn’t long before Leno was called into drastic action, dextrously clawing away Troy Deeney’s attempt on goal from point-blank range to keep the game level.

“It was a good start to save the first ball,” Leno agreed. “It was a good save. And it was important for the team not to concede the first goal, as well as being good for my confidence.” His save would proved crucial, with Arsenal scoring twice late on to win their seventh match in succession.

Emery expects Cech to be absent “for two to three weeks”, ruling him out of matches at Qarabağ FK and Fulham prior to the international break. The injury could not have come at a worse time for the veteran, who celebrated his first clean sheet of the season last weekend having been singled out for special opprobrium over the past few weeks.

For Leno, though, an opportunity. Impress over the coming week and Emery may find it difficult to drop him upon the squad’s return from international duty. And Leno knows full well that if he doesn’t take the chance that he has been waiting for, more time on the sidelines beckons.

Reflecting on this unexpected opening, Leno made sure to pick his words carefully. His English is already flawless.

“It is a big chance for me, yes, but I do not want to say it wrong that I am happy for Petr to be injured. I feel sorry for him but now I have more opportunities to play and I will concentrate on these games.

“Now that he is injured — and we do not know exactly how long for — I have the opportunity to play more games and show the coach my quality.”

But Leno isn’t simply playing for the number one shirt. There is also a narrative subtext at work: in finding himself necessarily deployed behind Arsenal’s favoured Premier League back four, Leno has the opportunity to properly validate Emery’s devout commitment to playing out from the back, something that Cech has so far found beyond him.

It was a successful first league outing for the German

Leno readily admits that it was for this shared footballing philosophy that Arsenal saw fit to spend £19.3m on him in the first place. Emery told him as much when he first arrived at London Colney, before he was handed his training kit and given the grand tour. And should he succeed in bearing this standard, Emery is unlikely to demote him back below Cech anytime soon.

“He just said that he liked the style I play because he wants to play different football than before, because he watched many of my games and knows my quality,” Leno added of the time he first met his new manager.

“But he did not say whether I was No 1 or No 2, or anything else. He just said about the performance.

“Petr has won many titles but I think that we are very different goalkeepers. My style is to play with the team and to play a little bit higher when the defence is very high. To play high and to reduce the space between the defence and me. But I can learn very many things from his experience of difficult situations and I think that it is very good for me to work with him.”

Leno can take advantage of Cech's injury

Leno will next be called into action on Thursday, when Arsenal travel to Azerbaijan on European duty. Then, three days later in Fulham, the moment he has truly been waiting for: a first Premier League start.

And this time, he won’t take to the field immediately hoping to return to the sanctity of the dressing room. Not when the number one shirt suddenly appears his for the taking.

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