Whilst the majority of Arsenal’s team has been fairly settled in recent weeks, one position that remains hotly debated is the goalkeeper.
Aaron Ramsdale started Arsenal’s first four Premier League games this season, in which the club went unbeaten, but was replaced following the September international break by David Raya, who signed on loan from Brentford in the summer.
Raya kept a clean sheet on his debut, a 1-0 away win at Everton, and despite keeping a clean sheet in four of his eight appearances, the Spaniard has not looked overly convincing.
In last weekend’s game away at Chelsea his poor positioning allowed Mykhailo Mudryk’s attempted cross to loop over him into the far corner, whilst he was also at fault for goals in Arsenal’s defeat to Lens and appears woefully short of confidence.
At first glance, it would appear strange that manager Mikel Arteta chose to replace Ramsdale, who was named in the PFA Team of the Season following his impressive 2022-23 campaign.Embed from Getty Images
The Englishman had shown some frailties during the Gunners’ title run-in, most notably against Bournemouth and Southampton at home, when on both occasions he was at least in part to blame for goals conceded in the opening minute.
Despite these errors, the man signed from Bournemouth in 2021 kept an impressive 14 clean sheets last season, conceding only 41 goals in the league.
It is not the first time Arteta has made a ruthless decision about a goalkeeper.
The Spaniard sold Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa in 2020 despite the Argentina number one helping the North London club to lift the FA Cup just months prior.
A year later he splashed out £30m on Ramsdale, subsequently dropping then first-choice keeper Bernd Leno three games into the campaign, with the German leaving for Fulham a year later.
When Ramsdale was handed a new long-term contract at the end of last season, it seemed as though the 41-year-old had finally found his number one for the foreseeable future.
Raya’s arrival came largely out of the blue, and he was originally seen as a replacement for backup Matt Turner, who left for Nottingham Forest after just one year in North London.Embed from Getty Images
However, given how quickly he was promoted to first choice, it seems certain that he was signed to be the club’s new starter, especially as the change came on the back of a 3-1 victory over Manchester United in which Ramsdale did little wrong.
Arteta has insisted that the starting position is up for grabs, explaining: “I think I mentioned it that we wanted to build a squad with two quality players in each position, with different characteristics, and we have got that now. And to maximise that they have to play games, and we have a lot of games coming up now.”
Despite this, speculation around Ramsdale’s future is rife, with Sky Sports recently linking him with a move to Chelsea, and pundits such as Gary Neville have raised questions over the club having two number one’s in their squad.
“You’ve got two goalkeepers of equal ability and you don’t know which one’s your number one, you’ve got an issue. Trust me,” Neville said.
“I think that there is a problem brewing here, whereby Ramsdale is going to start knocking on the door to say get me back in and if he doesn’t he’s going to ask to leave.”
Whilst the Arsenal boss has placed his trust in Raya for now, it remains to be seen how patient he will be with his fellow Spaniard should he continue to make mistakes.Embed from Getty Images
Both goalkeepers are undoubtedly amongst the best in the world; Raya may be struggling of late, but he proved for several seasons at Brentford that he is a fine shot-stopper, whilst Ramsdale won recognition from his fellow professionals for his efforts last campaign.
Regardless of your opinion on who is better, the two are closely matched in ability; even if you believe Raya to be better, the marginal gains from making him first choice could be offset by the confusion switching goalkeepers brings to the team, especially if he continues to make mistakes.
Raya has a lot more to do to secure his place in the side permanently, and it remains to be seen how the situation will play out over the coming months.
Given how crucial the number one position is, how Arteta handles a situation all of his own makings could well define Arsenal’s season as they look to topple Manchester City in the race for the title.