Mailbag: Ramsdale/Raya, Liverpool, Chelsea sales and more!
Let's get stuck into these questions
Thanks everyone for many terrific questions, as ever, for me to answer in this mailbag. You always challenge me and my assumptions, and it’s a genuine pleasure to hear what you’re all thinking and saying. In that vein, now is as good a time as any to suggest you come and hang out in the Discord server I co-run with the guys from the Double Pivot podcast. I truly believe it’s become the single best place on the internet to chat about football and understand what’s happening. Paid subscribers can get the link to join here.
With that said, let’s answer some questions!
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Stats, as usual, are from FBRef unless stated otherwise.
John Bardwell asks…
“I’d love to hear your thoughts on the keeper situation at Arsenal. As a life-long Gooner, I'm thrilled at the depth we've added to our squad, and the loan deal for Raya is a steal. That said, I share the (seemingly common) opinion that it will have negative long-term impacts on Ramsdale, and that's aside from any question of "fairness" about Arteta benching a key member of this squad's renaissance. So, my questions to you are, do you think the loan move for Raya was the right call, and what do you think will happen come the next summer transfer window?”
This was a theme in the questions, with Gerald raising a similar point:
“What are your thoughts on Arteta's handling of the Raya - Ramsdale situation? Ramsdale has been instrumental in the team's mentality and connection with the supporters. It seems that Raya is a marginally better tactical fit - at best. This may be ripe for dressing room drama and punditry should Raya have any slip-up. To Raya's credit, he's done his job when asked (though I think he could've done better on the initial tip on Spurs' first at the weekend) and Ramsdale has not, himself, done anything to stoke further drama (seems like a top guy).”
I think this is what Mikel Arteta has always wanted to do. When Arsenal signed Aaron Ramsdale in 2021, Bernd Leno was still at the club as the established number one. James McNicholas reported at the time that “Arsenal like the idea of having two goalkeepers who can compete for one place in the team”, having to stress that “the club don’t regard Ramsdale as merely a ‘back-up’”.
“And then, beyond that, there is hope the newcomer can eventually become the club’s No 1. That’s reflected in the structure of the deal: the additional £6 million will only be triggered if Ramsdale plays a significant role in a successful Arsenal first team.”
Leno started the first three disastrous games of the season, getting dropped for the fourth match without having reason to complain. Arteta probably thought he’d be chopping and changing throughout the campaign, but Ramsdale looked the much better goalkeeper from the word go and that was that. Presumably he was well aware, though, that Arteta liked to have two ‘keepers competing for the same spot. I was slightly surprised that David Raya started in the Champions League against PSV but, as time goes on, I’m guessing Arsenal will settle into a rhythm of one playing in the league while the other plays in Europe and the domestic cups.
Some people have claimed this sort of setup never works, which I don’t quite agree with. Barcelona spent the 2014/15 season playing Claudio Bravo in La Liga while Marc-André ter Stegen got the Champions League and Copa del Rey matches. Barça won all three trophies. Real Madrid had a similar setup around this time, with Iker Casillas competing with first Diego López then Keylor Navas. The reason it feels unstable is that the two ‘keepers are never playing equally as well. Even if one is playing just a fraction better than the other, the manager will obviously trust that player more over time, with the less-favoured player prone to leaving instead of sitting on the bench. Or they both get sold because neither proves good enough, but just having one ‘keeper can’t magically solve the problem of a player not being good enough.
Ramsdale has been very good over stretches for Arsenal, but does seem to run hot and cold. He looked very composed when he first claimed his Arsenal starting spot, but standards did slip over the course of the 21/22 season. Similarly, he started last year very well before making some mistakes in the run in that contributed to Arsenal losing the title race. Since joining the club, he’s conceded 87 goals from 83.3 expected in the Premier League and Europa League1. He’s clearly an important figure in the dressing room and has helped Arteta moved to a more progressive style of play by building out from the back. But is all of that worth it for an inconsistent below average shot-stopper? Arteta must at least be wondering this.
David Raya conceded 70 times from 74.2 post-shot expected goals during his two Premier League seasons at Brentford. I’d asterisk that in two ways. The first is that he was facing different types of shots at the Gtech Community Stadium (not the catchiest name in the world). The Bees, though not a low block team, could get more bodies behind the ball, meaning Raya was probably facing more long range strikes and fewer of the sort big teams have to deal with, with fast players one-on-one in lots of space. The average shot on target Raya faced over that period was about 19% less likely to go in than the chances Ramsdale was dealing with at Arsenal. The other factor is with his feet. Brentford are pretty direct. Raya’s passes last season were on average played about 6 yards (5.7m) further than Ramsdale’s. I’m not suggesting for a second that Raya can’t play it short or deal with different types of shots, but he needs to show he can do it for Arsenal to make the deal permanent.
I don’t think this situation lasts forever. If Raya does well enough then he’ll probably take over from Ramsdale and Arteta made the right choice. If not, then Arsenal don’t sign him permanently and he returns to Brentford. Someone is winning this contest. I’m not sure it’ll cause huge dressing room drama since it seems like Ramsdale expected it. To be brutally honest, if Raya ends up the better player then Arsenal probably don’t care about Ramsdale’s feelings. I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between the two players, but for the cost of one loan, I don’t hate Arteta trying this out.
Dorin Moise asks…
“Do you think that Liverpool could challenge Man City this season?”
Now, I wrote every word below this before the Tottenham game, but that one saw another two red cards, so I actually don’t think it makes a jot of difference:
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