Bernd Leno makes case for Arsenal defence and predicts bright future under Mikel Arteta

German goalkeeper kept a rare clean sheet against Burnley and while the Gunners are yet to fire under the new manager, they are becoming harder to beat

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There are measures of Arsenal’s decline. There is the table, showing as many league defeats as wins, and the position, putting them on course for their lowest finish since 1995.

Perhaps most startling, however, is the chart proving that only Newcastle United’s Martin Dubravka has made more saves than Bernd Leno this season.

Arsenal have scarcely been a byword for watertight defending in recent years, but nor were their goalkeepers ever as overworked. Little wonder, then, that the German was pleased after he only had to make two saves to keep a clean sheet in a Sunday stalemate, even if that did owe something to Burnley's erratic finishing. "We were defensively very good," said Leno.

He put it down to a renewed resolve and a greater collectivism after regime change. Mikel Arteta’s embryonic reign has contained a solitary league win, but Arsenal feel harder to beat. They have drawn their last four league games: three away from home, two when reduced to 10 men, all when depleted by injuries.

“It is not only the defence,” Leno said. “You can see every player, even the strikers and wingers, are defending very well.”

Yet if the identities of those attackers is instructive, it highlights the underlying issues. Arsenal overcommitted their resources to the forward line.

They spent too heavily in the glamour roles in what, unless they win the Europa League, will be a failed attempt to return to the Champions League.

Arteta benched the club-record buy Nicolas Pepe at Turf Moor. Mesut Ozil was underwhelming and has a solitary league assist to show for his £350,000 (Dh1.7m)-a-week salary. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both missed chances. The captain’s contract is up in 2021. Arsenal may have to cash in this summer. Players of his ability and cost do not tend to covet mid-table football. Aubameyang has been linked with Barcelona.

“You can see on the pitch all these rumours [don’t affect] these players. They are fighting, they are leading the team and this is the only way,” Leno said. “Of course, there are many rumours, but you never had the feeling that any player was thinking about another club or wanted to leave or was refusing to train, or they didn’t have the mentality in the training. Everybody can see we have a new manager and a new mentality. We want to build something here at Arsenal.”

But rebuilding Arsenal is a long-term project with complications. They could be stripped of some deluxe components, albeit not Ozil. A club that made a £23.5 million loss last year may not be able to afford Aubameyang and Lacazette running down their contracts.

There is an enforced short-termism to the loan signings of Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares to bolster an injury-hit defence. “I think they will have the quality to join Arsenal,” Leno said. “With them we have more options. Mari is left-footed, so as a centre-back that is one big option.”

Much of the encouragement from Arteta's early days has stemmed from the youngsters. The symbolic triumph came at Bournemouth in last week's FA Cup tie when one 18-year-old, Gabriel Martinelli, set another, Bukayo Saka, up for the opener and Eddie Nketiah, a veteran of 20, scored the second goal.

Martinelli was shunted out to the right at Burnley by Aubameyang’s return from suspension. Joe Willock, demoted by Ozil’s recall, then came on for him. Each is a microcosm of wider decisions, of where the emphasis should lie.

The next generation offer the sense the long-term future will be brighter than its immediate equivalent. It was a theme for some of Arsene Wenger’s latter years. “We are on the right way,” said Leno but once again, Arsenal are waiting for tomorrow to come.

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