Much Goalkeeping Ado About Nothing
When Nottingham Forest failed in their pursuit of Dean Henderson, following the departure of Keylor Navas to his parent club, Paris St. Germain, they initiated a move for Matt Turner that allowed Mikel Arteta and Arsenal to rekindle interest on an old transfer target that didn’t come into fruition three seasons ago – another pursuit of David Raya.
The Spanish goalie had refused to sign a contract extension with Brentford, forcing the club to sign Mark Flekken, putting a price tag of £40 million for their wantaway goalie. Bayern was interested in looking for a heir apparent to the legendary Manuel Neuer who was still recuperating from a nasty injury he received last season, keeping tabs on Raya’s situation, but when Arsenal came calling Raya wasted no time in joining the exciting project brewing at North London, confirming that he couldn’t say no to the opportunity to play for the Gunners.
Unlike Turner, no disrespect to him of course, Raya wasn’t coming to Arsenal to seat on the dugout and play a handful of cup matches, so the onus was on the head coach, Mikel Arteta, to manage his newly-formed goalkeeping union adequately. Arteta’s current first choice goalie, Aaron Ramsdale, had his struggles in his first Arsenal season but showed massive improvement last season, starting all 38 games in the Premier League for the Gunners, making 94 saves and keeping 14 clean sheets. Ramsdale also grew in influence in the club, and right earned himself a new contract extension.
Raya put up some monster numbers last season for Brentford, helping them to their mid-table finish with some breathtaking goalkeeping displays. He was first in the Premier League last season for saves (154), first for saves from outside the box (64), first for touches (1,550), first for long passes completed (410) and second for crosses caught (50), garnering 12 clean sheets along the way.
In direct comparison with Ramsdale, Raya faced 205 shots and conceded 43 goals while Ramsdale faced 138 shots and conceded 42. However, Ramsdale beat Raya to win the Best Goalkeeper award in the London Awards, as well as the Premier League Team of the Season. Like Ramsdale, Raya is an excellent shot stopper, contains bags of bravery and can build up from the back. So Arteta signed a goalie that can offer just as much as Ramsdale in goal.
The season commenced with Ramsdale between the sticks against Nottingham Forest, while Raya sat on the dugout. Games against Crystal Palace, Fulham and Manchester United followed with Ramsdale starting all. The international break comes along and everyone expected Raya’s debut to come in the Champions League opener against PSV Eindhoven as the ‘Cup keeper’, but to everyone’s surprise, Raya was between the sticks against Everton, and the Goonersphere came up with all sorts of theories and postulation.
“Ramsdale has been dropped. He hasn’t been in good form anyway.”
“Raya has always been Arteta’s first choice, it was only a matter of time”
“What did Ramsdale do to get dropped?”
“Just like how Ramsdale got the nod ahead of Leno, it’s Raya’s time to usurp him”.
The person that made the decision, Mikel Arteta, was expectedly asked about the goalkeeping situation and had this to say,
“It’s something that has been historically done like this, but I cannot have two players like this in one position and not play them. David has tremendous qualities like Aaron has, like Karl (Hein) has, but we have to use them,” he said.
“I’m a really young manager. I’ve been in this job for three and a half years and I have few regrets with what I’ve done. One of them was that, on two occasions, I felt between 60 minutes and 85 minutes, in two games, to change the goalkeeper in that moment. But I didn’t do it.
“I didn’t have the courage to do it. But I’m able to take a winger, a striker, or put a central defender on to drop to a (back) five and hold that result? We drew those games and I was so unhappy.”
It is clear as day that Arteta preferred Raya for the opposition in question, Satanball FC, and it was the right decision, as Everton kept pinging loads on balls into the box and it was bread and butter stuff for Raya. In the entire Premier League last season, he was in second place for crosses caught, which was going to handy in such a game.
We tend to forget that goalkeepers are also ‘players’ too. Arteta made some succinct points that he wasn’t challenged about his decisions to leave first teamers like Gabriel Jesus and Kai Havertz on the bench for Eddie Nketiah and Fabio Vieira, but everyone seemed to put the spotlight on the goalkeeping situation.
If Ramsdale plays against PSV and Raya gets the nod in the North London Derby, would that automatically mean that he’s No. 1? What if Ramsdale plays against his former club, Bournemouth, just after Raya managed to keep in the derby? One thing Arteta promised us this season was unpredictability in his selections, and this is just one of those decisions.
In the first two weeks of the season, Gabriel, who had played consecutively for 73 Premier League matches was on the bench and people attributed a potential move to Saudi Arabia as the reason he was in the dugout. Arteta came out once again to state that the reasons were ‘tactical’.
It’s seems like an arduous task trying to achieve parity between two leading goalkeepers, but the camaraderie in this squad is very great and I believe Arteta has what it takes to make this work.
So let’s calm down and enjoy the fact that Arsenal arguably and enviably has two of the best goalkeeping pairings in the Premier League, and fussing over who’s starting ahead of who is as valuable as English refs actually being consistent with their VAR decision making.
Much goalkeeping ado about nothing.
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