Arsenal Sign Bernd Leno: An Improvement Over Ospina?

Arsenal Sign Bernd Leno: An Improvement Over Ospina?

It is a World Cup summer, so the transfer window is going to show slow progress while the premier national competition is on. Indeed, most big clubs seem to be biding their time and evaluating their options as the World Cup enters the knockout stages this weekend. Most, but not all. Arsenal seem to be going about their transfer business without getting too distracted by the spectacle in Russia.

While, they did change their manager long before and they did bring in Stephan Lichtsteiner just before the World Cup began, but last week (June 19), they announced the signing of goalkeeper Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkusen. Arsenal are apparently shelling out £19 million to Leverkusen and offering the German a five-year contract.

One way of looking at this is that the Gunners are going about their business without getting distracted and they seem to be highly focused on returning to their traditional top-four group.  But then, does Bernd Leno bring the adequate quality to help Arsenal climb the rungs in the Premier League? Or is he too going to be a good option off the bench? Let us take a look at the player to try and understand that.

The Player

Bernd Leno is a 26-year old German goalkeeper who stands 1.90m tall. He has played more than 300 games for Bayer Leverkusen across all competitions between 2011-12 and 2017-18 seasons.  Prior to that, he played 95 games for VfB Stuttgart’s youth teams. He is only the third goalkeeper in Bundesliga history to keep three consecutive clean sheets at the start of his career. At the age of 19 years and 193 days, when he faced Chelsea in the 2011-12 Champions League group stage, he also became the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear in a Champions League game.

In the 2017-18 season, he played in all but one Bundesliga games and also in five DFB Pokal matches, playing for a total of 3,650 minutes and conceding 49 goals. Of the 38 games, he kept clean sheets in 12. He put in 70 saves in his 33 league games, of which two were shots in the six-yard box, 43 were in the penalty area, and 25 were shots from out of the box.

On the face of it, Leno seems like a young promising goalkeeper, who has the ability to guard an elite team’s goal in any league. From that perspective, Arsenal seem to have landed a good goalkeeper for a bargain price, while their top-four competitors like Liverpool and Manchester City are looking to pay or have paid a lot more for their keepers. But does Leno have the ability to displace either Petr Cech or David Ospina from the Arsenal squad? Let us look at comparative stats.

Comparison Between Cech, Ospina, and Leno

At the summary level, Cech and Leno both kept 12 clean sheets in 39 and 38 appearances for their teams respectively, while Ospina kept 10 clean sheets in 25 games that he played for the Gunners last season. But if we dig a bit deeper, we can find some insight into why Unai Emery might prefer Leno to Ospina.

Indeed, Ospina has the least goals conceded per 90 minutes of 0.89, compared to 1.29 for Cech and 1.21 for Leno, but the quality of opponents Ospina faced included local cup opponents such as Ostersunds  FK, Nottingham Forest, BATE, and Doncaster Rovers as Arsene Wenger played the Colombian extensively in domestic cups and Europa League. Due to this, Ospina also faced the least quality shots with an xG per 90 minutes of 1.13 on an average, while Cech and Leno faced shots with xG per 90 minutes of 1.48 and 1.33 respectively, allowing Ospina to save 74.71% of shots aimed at his goal, while Leno and Cech managed to save 65.00 and 68.48% of shots they faced.

One area where Leno is better than Ospina but equivalent to Cech is Aerial Duels Won %. During 2017-18, Leno engaged in fewer aerial duels per 90 minutes – 0.39, compared 0.55 for Cech and 0.44 for Ospina but he won 93.75% of his aerial duels, which is second only to Cech (95.45%) but much better than Ospina (72.73%).

In England, where goalkeepers’ aerial ability is important, this metric could be the reason, why Emery could prefer Leno over Ospina, despite the Colombian’s ascendancy in some other respects.

Conclusion

Despite being 10 years elder to Leno, Petr Cech has equivalent or better stats than him and more importantly, is a veteran of the Premier League. So, it would be slightly surprising if Emery replaces Cech with Leno. Instead, it is possible that he is looking to replace Ospina with Leno, or even split time equally between Leno and Cech. Either way, Ospina does seem to be facing an exit from the Emirates as it appears that he is being replaced by a slightly better player.