The Gunners goalkeeper had to play second fiddle to Petr Cech during the early part of the season – but ended it as one of Unai Emery’s key players
Bernd Leno believes he ended his first season in England in the best form of his career despite enduring some ‘very tough’ times during his early months at Arsenal.
Having arrived in north London from Bayer Leverkusen in a £20 million ($25m) deal last summer, it was expected that Leno would go straight into Unai Emery’s new-look side at the expense of Petr Cech.
But Emery surprised many when he opted to start the season with the more experienced Cech in the Premier League, with Leno having to wait for the Europa League meeting with Vorskla to make his first start for his new club.
Another start followed in the Carabao Cup against Brentford but going into the game against Watford at the end of September, Leno had not been involved for a single minute in the Premier League.
For a player who had made more than 230 appearances for Leverkusen before leaving Germany, it was a difficult situation to deal with.
“It was a hard time,” Leno exclusively told DAZN DACH. “I think goalkeeper is a special position because as a striker you can come on for the last 20 minutes but a goalkeeper you don’t change too much, so it was a very tough time.
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“But the manager and the goalkeeper coach both told me to stay calm and focus on training. I played some games in the Europa League and Carabao Cup and it was good to have these games to improve and get a feeling for the defence.
“It was also good for my team-mates because when you come to another club and another country, everything is new. I started a little bit later in pre-season as well and everything is just a little bit bigger.
“So it was maybe good to learn and to see in training and also get confidence with your team-mates. In the end it was maybe not too bad to first be second choice in the Premier League.”
Things changed for Leno when Cech picked up an injury just after half-time against Watford on September 29.
The German was introduced off the bench and has played every single minute in the Premier League since, with Cech having to make do with appearances in cup games.
Despite a couple of nervy moments early on, Leno has gone on to become one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers – something highlighted by the fact that he was one of six players who was up for the club’s player of the season award.
That award was won by Alexandre Lacazette, who Leno himself said he would have voted for, but the 27-year-old admits he was proud just to be in contention.
“When I came here I didn’t expect something like that,” he said. “Of course it made me happy to be one of those six players.
“It’s a good feeling to make the fans happy when you perform. When the fans are happy we are also happy. It makes me proud.”
Germany have two international fixtures in June, taking on Belarus and Estonia in Euro 2020 qualifiers.
If Leno does not get a call-up to Joachim Low’s squad, he will spend the summer preparing for his second full season in the Premier League.
And he believes he will be heading into the 2019-20 campaign in the best form of his career, thanks to leaving the comforts of Leverkusen behind.
“I can feel I improved myself with this big step to another country,” he said.
“Arsenal are my second professional club in my career so I think I improved a lot because the quality in the Premier League is very high and at Arsenal as well.
“So I think I’m in a good moment and I’m enjoying being here to improve myself.
“That’s the reason I came to Arsenal.”