Arsenal: Are we sure... Leno is better than Cech?

Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

The clock showed 21 minutes when Petr Cech mis-hit the ball just inches wide of his own post. The 36-year-old goalkeeper was lucky not to have scored an own goal: his head dropped in shame, avoiding any eye contact from his perplexed teammates.

He didn’t, though, avoid mockery. When Bayer Leverkusen’s official Twitter account posted a video suggesting Bernd Leno would have done better in the situation, Cech took his anger to Twitter.

It didn't help. As the drama unfolded, the verdict from Arsenal fans was unanimous: drop Cech.

When it turned out Unai Emery was keeping the German international on the bench against Chelsea, the protests got vociferous. The Arsenal side of Twitter was outraged: “We’ve got Leno, drop Cech!”

Similarly to the Manchester City game, though, Cech pulled off some highlight-worthy saves at Stamford Bridge and prevented the match from descending into a hockey-game result.

Which raises the question: are we sure Bernd Leno is better than Petr Cech?

Cech’s reverse goalkeeper ageing

Wresting Cech from Jose Mourinho’s grasp in 2015 for only £10 million was heralded a piece of masterly business from Arsene Wenger when it occurred.

A Chelsea and Premier League legend, once considered world’s best goalkeeper, with hundreds of games of experience under his belt, moving to a direct rival from the same city? “Chapeau bas, Monsieur Wenger,” Arsenal fans thought.

Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

As goalkeepers tend to get better with age, Cech was expected to remain in contention for another four to five years. 

Key stat: In 2017/18, no other Premier League goalkeeper made more individual errors leading to a goal than Petr Cech with six.

The Czech international, however, seems to have only declined since his move to Arsenal. Hesitant in the air, incapable of saving penalties and with perpetual problems while defending the near post – Cech seemed to cost points at times, not winning them for the club.

A penalty specialist but not immune to errors

Bernd Leno is certainly not uncontroversial. The German international made the spotlight early in his career while playing for Bayer Leverkusen in both Bundesliga and Europe.

The youngest German goalkeeper to play in the Champions League, Leno debuted against Chelsea in 2011 and helped Bayer Leverkusen top their group ahead of the Blues.

From then onwards, Leno established himself as Bayer’s defensive linchpin. Having grown up idolising Iker Casillas, he became a similarly stalwart figure for his club: only missing five games in seven Bundesliga seasons.

REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

With quick reactions on the line and good with ball at his feet, Leno made a name for himself with his penalty-saving abilities: an area that certainly gives him an edge over Cech. He saved nine penalties in Germany – more than any other active goalkeeper – including four in a row in the 2013/14 season.

If error-making is something Arsenal fans hold against Cech, though, then perhaps they should be more cautious in rushing Leno between the posts. 

In 2016, he made second-most errors (9) leading to a goal. One of them, against Augsburg in October 2015, was even more embarrassing than Cech’s mishap against City and actually resulted in Bayer losing points.

Cech’s stepping up

Leno’s arrival at the Emirates certainly motivated Cech to improve his game. 

Pictures of him uncharacteristically bulked up in the pre-season spawned some chuckles amongst the fans. However, this gave an early sign that the experienced goalkeeper was picking up the gauntlet in the fight for the starting spot.

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