What comes next for Bernd Leno?
By Sumaiya Vawda
"The club always gave me the feeling that I was the number one, I am the number one, and I will be the number one," proclaimed Bernd Leno last October. A year on, the German wall is crumbling. The goalkeeper's comments came following penalty heroics against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup. Leno featured in that game because Alex Rúnarsson was deemed unready. This past week, he also made a Carabao Cup outing, but rather than doing so because a backup was unready, he was the out-of-favour goalkeeper on this occasion. On Wednesday evening, as Bernd Leno warmed up ahead of kick-off, Aaron Ramsdale sat relaxed. He may have been in his box at the ground, or at home—likely struggling to find a match stream like the rest of us. Such has his position grown in the Arsenal squad over the last two weeks that Mikel Arteta thought it unnecessary for him to serve as second-choice in a game fans would have bookmarked as a Ramsdale start at the season's onset. Bernd Leno was made an Arsenal player during Unai Emery's first transfer window. Sven Mislintat oversaw his transfer from Bayer Leverkusen. Emery initially hesitated to bench veteran Petr Cech, but Leno soon asserted himself as the first choice due to his superior passing and shot-stopping. His first two seasons in London were broadly impressive and littered with spectacular reaction saves (notably a double save in the North London derby). Perhaps telling is the fact that he was called on so often to bail out a wobbling defence. The growing disparity between Leno's performances and the team's results prompted transfer rumours aplenty. The strongest link was to Bayern Munich, with the German giants reportedly lining Leno up to replace the ageing Manuel Neuer. Taking the gloves from Neuer on the national front would surely represent a dream scenario for the younger Leno. Following a 2020/21 season replete with uncertainty in possession, a rash red card against Wolves, handling errors, and more uncharacteristic misjudgements leading to goals, Leno does not have Neuer to rival but Aaron Ramsdale. It is an indictment of the 29-year old's lack of resolve and ultimately a question of his engagement and ability that Ramsdale has replaced him so swiftly. The jury is still out whether Aaron Ramsdale will develop into the permanent No. 1 that Arsenal require; however his start has done enough to sway many a naysayer. A marked distinction between himself and Leno is the long, driven passes he consistently completes, the splitting, quick passes into midfield, commanding the area for crosses and an emotive presence at the rear end. Where does this leave Bernd Leno? Nobody knows if Arteta is set on starting Ramsdale regardless of performance, or whether he is genuinely keen on competition for the starting berth. If the latter rings true, is Leno committed to the battle or has he mentally checked out? Speculation says a January exit is on the cards for Leno, with Inter Milan emerging as a potential destination. It will remain to be seen how his squad role evolves, but the German mainly has himself to question. He arrived at Arsenal as a 26-year-old, with the potential of being a key player well into his 30s. But at 29, he has lost his starting place to a 23-year old and has no immediate recourse. Europa League fixtures may have aided him in this regard. Over a year ago, it was questioned why Bernd Leno would sign a new deal at Arsenal when he could chase Champions League football elsewhere. While he is still a good quality goalkeeper, will the likes of Bayern Munich (or Inter Milan for that matter) really show interest in Arsenal's bench shot-stopper? With each match that Leno sits behind Ramsdale, his prospects may worsen, and so too will his transfer value. It's a slippery slope, and a long way to fall.