Scouting For a Potential Bernd Leno Replacement
By Max Mischcon
Comfort and security are two words rarely associated with Arsenal. Fans have now accustomed themselves to this chaotic football club, beautiful in its lunacy. But since 2018, our German between the sticks has been a sense of calm amongst a consistent storm.
Long gone are the days of Manuel Almunia losing us the Champions League final- times of Petr Cech nearly scoring own goals whilst trying to play out from the back seem like a distant memory. Bernd Leno, no matter how tenuous or tentative the defence in front of us is, will give you a 7 out of 10 every week.
Remember when I said Leno ensured Arsenal fans comfort and security like, 60 words ago? I lied. Last week, when asked about his future at the club given he has 2 years left on his contract, Leno said: “I’m very happy at the club. I don't know what will come in the future, but I'm open to everything. Maybe for a new adventure or to stay at Arsenal. Like I said, I don't think about my future because two years is a long time. At the moment there are no conversations with the club or anything else.”
This isn’t anything drastic, but for writer’s block sake, let’s say Leno leaves tomorrow - it is undeniable he would need replacing. So I thought what better time than now to open up FBref.com and scout for a potential new number 1 for the Gunners.
I’m not looking for anything revolutionary here: a very good shot-stopper first and foremost, assured and accomplished on the ball, commanding when coming for crosses and preferably a good height too. Nothing special, just someone who defenders will look at and breathe a sigh of relief.
A German for A German
Our first candidate is 23-year-old keeper, Florian Muller. Freiburg’s number one has gone under the radar this season and has faced 142 shots on target, the 12th most in Europe, and among the top 12, he has the 2nd best save percentage at 71.8%.
This is the last I will reference save percentage as it’s a flawed metric as it doesn’t take into account the shot quality - we aren’t able to tell if every shot is taken from inside the 6-yard-box or from the halfway line. This is accounted for and fixed by a metric called Post-Shot Expected Goals (PSxG). Post-Shot xG is calculated after the shot has been taken, once it is known that the shot is on-target, taking into account the quality of the shot, assessing how likely the goalkeeper is to save the shot. The best way of evaluating a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability is by using PSxG - Goals Allowed (GA). Essentially, this will tell us how many goals a goalkeeper has prevented, either due to above average shot-stopping ability or good luck or how many goals a goalkeeper has allowed due to either below average shot-stopping or bad luck.
Muller’s PSxG-GA stands at +3.6, meaning he has prevented 3.6 more goals than expected of him, the 10th best in Europe. For context, Leno’s is practically the same at 3.3 and as frustrating as it is, Emi Martinez holds the best PSxG-GA in Europe, at a staggering 8.6- 1.6 better than Jan Oblak in second place.
However, Muller launches 75% of his goal kicks, suggesting that Freiburg don’t play out from the back and that adjusting to Arteta’s style of play would not be seemless for Muller. Although Leno is pretty solid with the ball at his feet, his distribution isn’t his strongest point, especially when spreading play to the full-backs, he will often overhit his passes; If we are to replace the former Leverkusen man, we need someone who oozes confidence on the ball.
Mr. Clean Sheet
Mike Maignan is the number 1 for Europe’s best defence. Lille currently sit top of Ligue 1 and have conceded only 20 goals in 33 games with a clean sheet percentage of 54%, the same as Ederson. Maignan has a PSxG-GA of +4.2, the 6th best in Europe. Claiming 8% of the crosses Lille are faced with, Maignan is more dominant in the box than Leno, who only claims 5.4% - equivalent to 1/20 crosses - an area in which he is known for lacking a sense of commandment.
However, despite Arsenal's strong relationship with Lille, they may be unwilling to sell and you can’t really blame them.
The 25-year-old’s high PSxG-GA is a statistic deflated by the fact that it’s a massive over-performance given his previous 2 seasons have seen him put up +2.3 and +0.2, respectively. Maignan is also only 6ft 1, giving me immense Ospina vibes.
Additionally, Maignan only completes 35% of his launched passes (passes longer than 40 years) compared to the Ligue 1 average of 40% - again, Maignan doesn’t appear to be good enough with his feet and seems like a keeper who is having a terrific season, but albeit, is massively overperforming.
The Leno Replacement
Ever since Alphonse Areola joined Fulham on loan, they’ve looked a lot less Championship bound and a lot more Premier League worthy. This is due to other factors of course, but the 28-year-old has acted as the foundation of strength and stability in a previously fragile and vulnerable defence.
His PSxG-GA stands at a brilliant +5.4, the 4th highest in Europe, a number he has gotten close to when given game time. The PSG loanee is also completing 40% of his launched passes, higher than the league average. The French international is integral to Parker’s Fulham when playing out from the back and is very proficient with the ball at his. He also catches 10.7% of incoming crosses, the 12th best in Europe, emphasising his domination and prowess in the penalty area.
He recently turned 28, is 6ft 4 and PSG have the excellent Keylor Navas at the helm so will be open to selling him.
All-in-all, he is the complete goalkeeper and is my pick to replace Leno in the unlikely event he should leave. He’s been Fulham’s brightest spark this season and should be pushing France for the number 1 spot.
By no means is this a call for Leno’s head. I think he’s been a consistent performer in a frighteningly inconsistent side. There are obvious faculties to his game, but we mustn't forget the Emery days in which he was saving us, literally, week in, week out.
Should we have sold him instead of Martinez? Probably. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if we sold him, but he is a top 4 quality keeper and there are many more positions which we should be prioritising ahead of a new goalkeeper.
I’m a simple man: I see Leno, I nod my head, I smile.