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Bernd Leno injury update & Arsenal’s keeper plan moving forward

With their #1 out, how can the Gunners shuffle to manage this season and plan for 2020/21?

Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Arsenal fans knew the return of the Premier League would be a tough start for the club, but even the most pessimistic have likely been surpassed after a brutal opening week for the Gunners. A solid first 30 minutes against Manchester City, was turned on its head following injuries to starters Granit Xhaka and Pablo Mari - not to mention the David Luiz debacle.

If the City result was a more-of-the-same feeling for Arsenal fans, Brighton was a nightmare. Losing in stoppage time was brutal enough, but to have the winner come from the player who needlessly ended Bernd Leno’s season made it all that much worse. Leno immediately knew he was in trouble and was furious at Neal Maupay as he was carried off the pitch.

The club released an official update on the German keeper “Right knee. Positive news after detailed assessments. Sustained moderate ligament sprain during Brighton & Hove (a) on Saturday. Aiming to return to full training in four to six weeks.” Which while that would rule him out for the remainder of this season, he could be ready for the start of the 2020/21 campaign.

The new Arsenal goalkeeper 1-2

Emi Martinez is a sure pair of hands that fans will be familiar with by name, if not experience. Martinez has been at the club since 2011, but has only made 26 appearances over those nine seasons. After six loans, it wasn’t until this season that Emi secured the number two keeper spot at Arsenal and became the primary keeper for the Europa League and Cup competitions.

Now the 27-year-old has the opportunity to demonstrate his ability at this level and make the case for next season. Martinez may get more playing time at the start of next season as Leno works his way back into fitness and form. Emi is under contract for the next two seasons (June 2022) which leaves Arsenal some room to move as they see how Leno’s injury plays out and determine the best course of action for the 20/21 campaign.

Get familiar with the name Matt Macey as he becomes the Gunners backup goalkeeper for the remainder of the season. Macey joined the club in 2014, going out of three loans, and featuring as the primary keeper for the Arsenal U23s this year. The 25-year-old has one season left on his contract, with his future beyond that likely in doubt. For now Arsenal fans have to hope that Martinez remains healthy and Arteta isn’t forced to utilize the U23s depth.

Arsenal’s 3rd and options next season?

So who becomes the team’s 3rd keeper - a player we hope to only see in training videos? As Arsenal close out the final games for 2019/20, they will likely use one of the other two U23 keepers rather than look for a short term signing of a player out of contract.

The 18-year-old Karl Hein, is the most likely candidate. Hein made 13 starts this season across the the Premier League 2 and U18 Premier League, as well as featuring at Macey’s backup for much of the year. He joined the club in the summer of 2018 and remains under contract for another two seasons. Behind him is 19-year-old and England native James Hillson who made four starts for the academy teams after joining from the Reading academy last summer.

A bigger question is if Leno ends up being out for longer than initially expected, how should Arsenal handle the backup role? Is Arteta confident enough on Martinez as a primary starter? Does the club really think Macey can be the Premier League backup and Cup keeper? That second one seems like a huge leap. Or should Arsenal sign an experienced keeper on a one-year deal to split time with Martinez and utilize the U23 team only as needed?

Two names fans will be familiar with that have plenty of Premier League experience and are available on a free this summer are Claudio Bravo and Joe Hart. Neither will be cheap from a weekly wages standpoint, but are still likely a safer bet than a younger, less experienced keeper that might cost Arsenal a transfer fee.

There are plenty of keepers with expiring contracts, but expect those two names to pop up frequently until the Arsenal keeper situation is resolved for next season. Hart made only three starts for Burnley this year, while Bravo saw the pitch 16 times as City’s goalkeeper backup to Ederson. And while we are on the page of getting City-related keepers, why not get a one-year loan for the USMNT’s #1 Zack Steffen who spent this past year on loan at Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Arsenal have also been linked with Barcelona backup Neto, but that seems like an unlikely move now that Leno’s injury isn’t as severe as it could have been.