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Bernd Leno opens up on ‘difficult’ Europa League bench role

Bernd Leno, Arsenal
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Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno admits playing second fiddle to Petr Cech in the Europa League has been “difficult” for him.

Upon completing a £22.5m transfer from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, Leno has moved ahead of Cech as Arsenal’s first-choice keeper for Premier League games.

The 27-year-old’s progress at the Emirates Stadium ultimately caused Cech to announce plans on ending his stunning 20-year playing career at the end of the season.

Despite his limited opportunities, however, Cech has started in goal for all of Arsenal’s last nine Europa League matches. Hence, Gunners boss Unai Emery will likely stick with him for the second leg of their semi-final clash with Valencia tonight.

Following last week’s 3-1 first leg win in north London, Arsenal hope to maintain their advantage and a book a place in the Europa League final.

And Leno admits he would find it difficult to refuse the chance of playing in the final, despite the fact it would be Cech’s final game.

“It’s such a big game and everyone wants to play,” said Leno, according to Goal.

“I’m not sure if I would say ‘I don’t want to play’ because it’s an unbelievable game and everyone wants to enjoy it.

“You don’t know how many finals and how many big games you can play in your career.

“So I’m not sure if I would say no.”

The Germany international started Arsenal’s opening three Europa League games of the season during the group stages.

But Leno’s last appearance in the competition came in a 1-0 win at Sporting Lisbon on October 25.

“It’s difficult because I want to play every big game and now the games are big and important,” added Leno.

“But I also have to respect Petr because we push each other. Petr is a legend and still a very good goalkeeper.

“The manager decided that I’m the first choice in the Premier League and that Petr was playing in the Europa League. At the end, you have to respect it.

“I have to focus on every game in the Premier League and if I’m not playing in the Europa League I am focused on the bench because you never know.”

The Valencia and Arsenal match will take place at the Mestalla, with kick-off set for 21:00 (CET) tonight.