In today’s football discourse, knee-jerk reactions are inevitable. Barely a day passes without seeing players and managers alike decried as “frauds” or lauded as “world-class” with little evidence to substantiate those claims other than one 90 minute slice of football.
One club often guilty of this – there are many, and to list them all would take up half of this page – is Arsenal. The club spawned an entire genre of football criticism, fans ranting or raving outside a ground into a microphone, while rivals on Twitter lap up every last second – Spurs supporters, in particular.
Yet something perhaps a little strange has happened at the Emirates in recent months and there appears to be a case of mass delusion going on.
Fresh from the #WengerOut hashtag that followed every embarrassing Gunners defeat in recent years, there is now a blanket lauding of goalkeeper Bernd Leno, regardless of the facts.
Leno is clearly a fine goalkeeper. He joined the club in the summer after a number of successful seasons at Bayer Leverkusen and has made the No.1 spot his own after Unai Emery’s initial resistance to playing the Germany international.
Fans have taken to him. A replacement for Petr Cech, who is retiring in the summer, was long overdue and Wenger seemed to have a particularly dangerous blind spot when it came to recruiting stoppers. Cech, even he may admit, joined the club after his peak.
Leno is good and is capable of the spectacular, as a double save against Tottenham Hotspur proved. In that game, he blocked Christian Eriksen’s close-range volley with his shin before reacting almost immediately to a fizzing Moussa Sissoko drive on the rebound. He failed to keep a clean sheet – he conceded to Harry Kane’s penalty as Arsenal drew 1-1 – but the save tipped the scales amongst Gunners fans.
They took to Twitter to laud the stopper, with many insisting that his performance proved he belongs in the world-class echelon of ‘keepers, alongside the likes of David De Gea of Manchester United and Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak.
Leno took a while to settle in England. However, we’re really starting to see the best out of him in recent weeks, as demonstrated by his world class double save at Wembley. He’s integrated well in the dressing room & his best years are still ahead of him. Happy birthday, Bernd!
— Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) March 4, 2019
TWO WORLD CLASS SAVE IN ONE SECOND
— ARSENAL (@tomgunner14) March 2, 2019
WORLD CLASS FROM LENO! ??
— King Laca (@Lacazest) March 2, 2019
The statistics, however, prove them wrong.
Per the Premier League’s official website, Leno has made three errors leading to goals this season; only Everton’s Jordan Pickford has made more. Leno has also kept four clean sheets in 2018-19. That’s 13 fewer than Alisson, 10 behind Ederson of Manchester City and seven behind Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga. He has the same number as Burnley’s Joe Hart and Hart hasn’t played since December.
Of course, the majority of professional goalkeepers are capable of sublime saves in the moment but boiling down one’s assessment of a player’s talent to two saves is ridiculous.
Leno is, as mentioned, a good goalkeeper. He is young, too; at the age of 27, he has another decade in the top-flight awaiting him and he will surely improve.
But the statistics show that he is not yet the exceptional stopper many Arsenal fans seem to think he is.
He became the first goalkeeper to stop Manchester United from scoring in an away game this season in the club’s most recent Premier League outing and was widely lauded. United, it should be remembered, hit the post twice in that game.
He will, of course, turn in excellent displays throughout his Arsenal career. Even the worst players manage to muster a handful.
But perspective is needed. Leno is still adjusting to life in England. He has not yet completed a full season in the Premier League and is still ironing out the mistakes.
That will come and Arsenal will end up with an exceptional stopper.
As it is, they have one who needs to be allowed the freedom to breathe and improve without being lauded as world-class every time he makes an above average save.