Leno’s mixed bag

Saturday’s clash with Liverpool represented Bernd Leno’s first real test as a Premier League goalkeeper.

Up against top six opposition and a formidable front three in Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, the German stopper showed signs of brilliance mixed with the hallmarks of a new signing almost too eager to make an early impression.

The overriding stat is that he remains unbeaten as an Arsenal No1. Let’s look at how he maintained the run.

Pure passing

In the Premier League, only Kepa and Ederson have completed more short passes per game than Leno this season (granted, Leno has played five games to their 11). His 100 percent accuracy when playing out from the back continued at the Emirates, with a strong emphasis on starting possession as deep as possible inside Arsenal’s half. This isn’t a huge shift from Petr Cech’s approach under Unai Emery, but Leno’s competence with the ball at his feet is notable improvement. He attempts just over half the long balls delivered by Cech prior to their changeover.

VERDICT: Good goalkeeping.

Denying Virgil van Dijk

This was a top save. In anticipation of Van Dijk opting to head or volley Salah’s ball first time, Leno initially drops two yards. Once Van Dijk takes a touch, the situation then becomes a one-on-one, prompting Leno to take three steps forward to reduce the distance between his body and the ball. He gets low, his chest his square and his arms are positioned well, meaning the likelihood is strong he still makes the save if Van Dijk hits his effort to either side. Well executed all round.

VERDICT: Good goalkeeping.

Clattering Virgil Van Dijk

No doubt about it, Leno decides to come for the free-kick and then realises he’s made the wrong decision. At this point he either stops in no man’s land and runs the risk of a header looping over him, or he commits to his choice and makes the best of a bad situation by spreading as huge as he can to impact the move. He isn’t coming for the cross (he didn’t even try to punch it) and instead banks on any part of his body making contact with the ball, which he ultimately didn’t succeed in achieving.

VERDICT: Bad goalkeeping.

Liverpool’s goal

On the flip side of the above point, while the best goalkeepers statistically impact a game more, they’ll often statistically make a higher number of mistakes for that exact reason. In this instance, Leno believes in his ability to cut out the cross delivered by Mane. Moreover, once the ball is played into Mane, Leno’s attention has to be on the cross coming in. If he lets the ball flash across and Salah connects, the goalkeeper is blamed. Therefore, he opts to collect and sees his parry ricochet off Rob Holding into the path of James Milner, resulting in the goal. Was it an error? In execution, yes. In judgement, no. Had Holding not touched it, the parry would have fallen to Saed Kolasinac and the danger would have cleared.

VERDICT: As Leno told ESPN after the game, “You stay away, the guy at the back scores, maybe nobody will blame you. If you go into it and the one in the middle scores, all say parry in another way.
“It’s not that easy in this situation because I completely tried to get there. You can’t really say where it’ll go, and then the ball falls flat on Milner’s feet. And that’s the goal.”

Denying Virgil van Dijk II

Another decent stop. Leno moves his feet well and retreats to his line to offer maximum reaction time. His positioning and spring is spot on and, even though he’d have expected to make the save, he’d have been happy for the opportunity after the goal.

VERDICT: Good goalkeeping.

In summary

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It was a mixed bag for the 26-year-old. Considering he’d made the excellent first stop from Van Dijk, failing in his attempts to collect the free-kick moments later was an odd choice. It smacked of a goalkeeper chasing the game to stamp his authority and show people what he’s capable of. Leno doesn’t need to force himself into making saves to build confidence. The game will come to him, especially when facing the likes of top six opposition – four of whom he’s still yet to come up against.

On that note, he is still a goalkeeper. And, as he added to ESPN, “For a goalie it’s a bit like getting the s*** of the stick.”

Here, here.

Images: Screengrab (BBC) unless otherwise stated

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