In the great scheme of things, it’s fair to say that Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno has won the battle of wills with established ace Petr Cech to be considered the first-choice custodian under boss Unai Emery.
But retiring Cech, the former Chelsea keeper, gets his chance to bow out in his final game of his career when the Gunners face the Blues in the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan later this month.
The ex-Czech Republic keeper has still played in the Europa League games since Leno took his position — and Emery will continue to select him as the curtain comes down on an illustrious career.
Most pundits, critics and supporters would agree the timing is perfect. Leno looks to be one for the future and has established himself as the No.1 — and rightly so as he looks more and more comfortable and confident in every game.
But he has lifted the lid on the tricky transition at the Emirates outfit after his £20million switch from German side Bayer Leverkusen last summer. Speaking to Dazn Dach, Leno has revealed it was a tough time to settle in at Arsenal then set about winning his place.
“It was a hard time 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. 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.”
Meanwhile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has the same goal-scoring traits as Gunners legendary marksman Thierry Henry (228 goals in 377 appearances), according to former Arsenal grafter Martin Keown.
Aubameyang hopes to take his rich form into the Europa League final and in so doing add to the 22 Premier League goals that helped earned him the Golden Boot, an award he shared with Liverpool duo Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
He hit a hat-trick in the second-leg of the semi-final against Valencia and then went on to bag a brace in the final league game of the season, a 3-1 win at Burnley. And Keown said:
“I have said it before but he is the closest thing to Thierry Henry and he is proving that. We are getting out of our chairs every time he has the ball. Let’s credit Emery for that.”