Bernd Leno says he’s never been a ‘badass’ and has no intentions of becoming one just to get his place back in the Arsenal starting lineup.
Rather than ‘talk’ his way into Mikel Arteta’s thinking, the German says he’s aiming to get more game time by delivering the goods in training day after day.
Leno was Arsenal’s undisputed first choice stopper until the club signed Aaron Ramsdale and since losing his place in September, through no fault of his own, he’s made just one Premier League appearance.
Without European football to lean on and with the club exiting the FA Cup at the third round stage, game time has been very limited and the 30-year-old admits it’s been a frustrating period in his career.
Reflecting on being dropped, the Germany international told Spox and Goal: “It was a setback and a bitter moment. That’s sport, you have to accept that. It wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t feel sorry for myself, I wanted to attack again immediately.
“I don’t want to say that I was a pawn, but when the results don’t add up, football sometimes moves quickly. The coach wanted to set a new impulse – and then the results came. That was bitter for me because I had held up well before that.
“I had never experienced anything like this in my career before. But I looked ahead. My aim is to always play, I know what I can do. I’m not 20 anymore where I could maybe say: ‘I still have time’.”
On having to play the role of backup, he continued: “Of course it’s difficult because you always have to keep the tension high. You also fight against yourself a bit and approach every training session like a game.
“With the few opportunities you get then, you have to be there. That’s exactly what I try to do week after week so that I can always be there and ready.”
Asked if he’d been dropped because he needed to improve, Leno said, “No, it was clearly communicated to me in that it had nothing to do with my performance.
“It was therefore difficult to accept at first. I had always played well in the years before and was hardly ever injured. That hits you then. But like I said, there’s no reason to feel sorry for yourself. You have to look ahead and keep working on yourself. I did that then.”
He also accepts that with his teammates winning, it was always going to be difficult to get back into the side.
“When the results are right, it’s logical that you don’t change as much in a well-established team,” he said.
When an opportunity to play did arise, Leno proved himself to be a safe pair of hands. Filling in for Ramsdale at Aston Villa, the German had to be on guard right up to the final whistle, making a stoppage-time save from Philippe Coutinho to secure a clean sheet that was met with rapturous scenes.
Reflecting on how that felt, he said: “Of course, you’re as hot as french fries. We won, I was able to save Coutinho’s free-kick in the last second. After that, many players and employees came up to me and congratulated me and shared my joy.
“The people in charge at the club and the coach also thought it was good that I behaved professionally beforehand and always supported the team.
“Of course, I have an ego too. But I’ve never been a badass, and I never will be. I don’t want to get back into the goal by talking, but by performance. I’ll bring it. I will continue like this.”
As for what the future holds, he talks like a man who isn’t urgently looking for a summer exit. That may well be his professionalism shining through given he knows he’ll need to be playing to stand any chance of being part of Germany’s World Cup squad.
“Even if it’s difficult with the situation, I always came to training with a smile,” he says.
“I still enjoy football and I still feel very, very comfortable at Arsenal. I always step on the gas – for myself, but also for the team by keeping the level of training high.
“Of course, I started the season with different ambitions and I know that it’s difficult for the DFB when you’re not playing. I hope that I can still jump on the World Cup train if, ideally, I can get back in goal as quickly as possible. That’s what I push myself for every day.
“You can’t rule anything out anyway. I’m 30 years old, so you’d think that, despite the ambition and impatience, you might be a bit more relaxed about such a topic.
“Of course, there are always approaches. But, it’s about playing here. That’s my first ambition. If the club plans otherwise, they have to approach me. Of course, my agency and I are keeping an eye on the situation.”