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A Fond Farewell to Bernd Leno

By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)

A year ago, Bernd Leno's place at Arsenal was well-cemented. Emi Martinez had been sold to Villa the season before, Alex Runarsson had failed to impress, and the German was looking like a lock for the No. 1 shirt and a season-long starting berth. Even the then-contentious signing of a twice-relegated Aaron Ramsdale as "one for the future" didn't stir the pot much.

But as is so often the case in football, the unexpected became the norm. After a torrid start to the season, Arteta began to tinker with the backline to provide competition and an impetus to overcome the pallid malaise that settled over the Emirates after our nasty winless streak to start the 2021/22 season. Leno was one of those who made way, at the time in a temporary fashion, to see what Ramsdale could bring to the side, a question immediately answered.

Ramsdale brought distribution and aggression. Despite being shorter than Leno, he brought confident cross-claiming and a more vocal presence in the box, not to mention the dressing room. And once he proved that he could provide the match-saving moments that had become Leno's trademark at Arsenal, it was all but over for the German.

In many ways, I feel bad for Leno. His early years at Arsenal were characterized by leaky backlines and a stubborn insistence on playing a high line with players unsuited to the task, which often left him stranded on what became known as "Leno Island." He was elevated into the Player of the Season conversation for three seasons straight because he almost singlehandedly kept us in matches, often to the point of maintaining our Europa League fights.

And for all those Arsenal fans calling for Arteta's head because we choked fourth, please remember that we almost lost Europa League under Emery. Ta very much.

Despite his demotion, Leno has always been a model professional. He accepted the injury that gave rise to Emi Martinez with composure, fought his way back to a starting berth, made himself undroppable across all competitions, and then, when his time to step down for Ramsdale came about, he never whinged or complained. He simply got his head down, worked hard in training, and played admirably whenever called upon.

Once it became clear that Leno's time at the club would likely end, Arsenal continued to move forward with their recruitment. Matt Turner was signed over the winter, and is playing his first match for the Arsenal today against FC Nürnburg, and the final nail in Leno's coffin has reportedly been set in place, hammer raised. Fulham have apparently matched Arsenal's £10-11m valuation of the German net minder, and are looking to add a genuine piece of quality, a move we can neither begrudge the Cottagers nor Leno himself. They need a defined No. 1 keeper and the 30-year-old absolutely fits that bill.

Though he has no future at Arsenal, I think I can speak for all Arsenal fans when we say we wish him the best. Wherever he ends up, Fulham or otherwise, he's been a fantastic player and fantastic human being while at Arsenal, and will always hold a place in our hearts.

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