It was a bit of an extraordinary game yesterday, one which saw two game-saving clearances off the line, two major errors by backup keeper Aaron Ramsdale, and a debut goal for Kai Havertz on the way to a 1-0 victory against a resolute Brentford Bees side.
The first error by Ramsdale was partly a product of how Arsenal play now and partly a product of the Arsenal keeper’s shot confidence. Ramsdale has recently opened up about how much the demotion has affected him, saying that he goes in to work feeling depressed and “suffering and hurting” and that David Raya has to pick him up. I know that this will draw some ire from the Arteta fans but I can’t help but point out that this entire situation is one of his making and that once again, his poor man-management skills are to blame for actually hurting his team.
I understand that titles are won and lost on small margins. I understand that David Raya offers a small, marginal gain over Aaron Ramsdale. I understand that Aaron has been demoted to 2nd choice and that it’s his job to try to win the starting position back. But what Arteta got wrong was how he presented that to the media and apparently how it was presented to Ramsdale. Ramsdale speaks as if he was blindsided by the decision. And the ramifications have been devastating for the young keeper: started the season as first choice, was given a lot of press and coverage by the club, and suddenly he’s been replaced and he’s no longer even 2nd choice for England and could miss out on a potentially medal-winning international side.
This sort of disruption doesn’t just affect the keeper, it can hurt the whole team. Everyone can be on edge, not knowing whether their job is secure.
Now, my opposition here will (rightly) point out that in the highly competitive world of Premier League football no player’s job is secure. In fact, Ramsdale himself was brought in over Bernd Leno – who is still a top keeper and who was, I think, wrongly maligned by fans and the club. But beyond simply “competition” Arsenal have had some really strange stuff going on with their keepers over the last 4 years: burning through three different players. One of whom is an infamous World Cup winner whose team absolutely play the way that we do and who has been one of the best saving keepers every year for the last three years. Only to land on the very marginal gains offered by David Raya.
And to make matters worse, Fabricio Romano, announced on the Nazi propaganda site formerly known as Twitter just before the game that Arsenal are looking to make the David Raya deal permanent. This, despite David Raya’s own performances being quite shaky. And – I’ve been saying this for four years now – once again we are going to go into the summer needing a solid backup keeper. Because Aaron Ramsdale is already rumored to be looking to get out and get into a starting place at another club, one which he will absolutely find.
So, it’s not a surprise that Ramsdale would have a shaky game. When he came to Arsenal we were all informed that he is a confidence player, and based off this performance – one where he had a really crazy dribble saved off the line by Declan Rice and where he got caught in two minds about a throw, you can see that his confidence is shot. And it certainly didn’t help that the opposition fans saw his confidence was shot and starting signing “you’re just a shit David Raya” at him. This is a problem for the whole team because it means that we may have a problem with our backup keeper now.
We did keep the clean sheet, which might help with Ramsdale’s confidence, but it wasn’t exactly a top performance defensively or offensively which kept Brentford off the scoresheet. Declan Rice saved one goal and Zinchenko saved another, after his own mistake nearly cost us again. Arsenal now have four goal line clearances in 13 matches this season, which is the same number as the previous 3 seasons combined.
We do have the lowest expected goals against total (and per game) and we have conceded the fewest goals of any team this season. We are also on top of the table and all we have to do to win the League is match Manchester City point for point until the end of the season. So, maybe I’m crying over nothing. Maybe this will all work out and Arsenal will win the League this year. If we do, the whole keeper thing will either be forgotten or will be put down as a stroke of genius by Mikel Arteta. We will have to see how it all turns out.
For the match, I’ve already recounted Arsenal’s near-failings in defense but there was a weird problem going forward as well. The team made some hard work of the attack and that also tallies with the stats this season. Our npxG is merely 1.4 (last season it was 1.8) and I think it’s obvious that we are struggling to get goals in open play situations. We are, however, getting penalty goals (lead the League with 6) and goals from set plays (lead the League with 8). Those are pushing our xG and goals scored up to nearly last year’s level (2.1 goals/game this season, 2.2 last). And I have to point out that we are either first or 2nd in passes and carries in the final third and penalty area, while also 1st or 2nd in keeping the opponent out of our penalty area. That is all to say that we are playing exactly how Arteta wants us to play, keeping the clean sheets he wants us to keep, and winning games against solid defensive opposition like Brentford.
So, why am I complaining? Maybe if I’m honest, I just like Ramsdale and don’t want to see him suffering. In fact I hate to see him suffering, so I think I’m just going to wish him the best and hope that his and our situation is resolved quickly and amicably.
So that we can get on with the business of winning the Premier League.