Few expected Aaron Ramsdale to be replaced as Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper, but Mikel Arteta saw an opportunity to upgrade by signing David Raya. The Spaniard had been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League for Brentford last season and so Arteta’s unrelenting determination to improve his team was applauded by some.
Two months on, though, Arsenal’s decision to sign Raya is being questioned. The 28-year-old was at fault for Chelsea’s second goal in a 2-2 draw against the Gunners on Saturday and has generally contributed to a sense of defensive nervousness in the matches he has played for his new team so far.
Arteta clearly wants his goalkeeper to play in a certain manner. He wants Arsenal to play out from the back with Raya expected to invite pressure from the opposition. This is how modern goalkeepers play at the elite level across Europe and Arteta has signed Raya to act as Arsenal’s Ederson.
So far, though, Raya has been a weak link for the Gunners. Opponents are recognising how the Spaniard can be hassled and harried and there have been a number of close calls – like when Julian Alvarez very nearly tackled the ball into the back of the net for Manchester City before the international break.
“What he doesn’t want is for us to start hitting balls – we have to invite a player [opponent to press] to come out a little bit,” explained Raya in a recent interview when asked to elaborate on Arteta’s approach and what he wants from the goalkeeper in his team. “I’m the free man, and once a striker or someone jumps me, that leaves a free man on the pitch, and we have to look for superiority.
“That’s the way the coach tells me to play. The fans aren’t used to us goalkeepers having the ball for a long time and if they (the opponents) don’t press, you have to wait for the moment to pass the ball. It’s a risk that we take, but I take the responsibility that if, one day, there’s a mistake I’ll raise my hand. There’s no way around it.”
Of course, Ramsdale already did a lot of the same things for Arsenal as their goalkeeper. His signing from Sheffield United was viewed as one of the best deals struck by the Gunners with Arteta as manager and so there’s a sense the Arsenal manager has sought a solution to a problem that never truly existed. There was no need to replace Ramsdale.
Last season made clear Arsenal must be ruthless in the strengthening of their squad to catch Manchester City at the top of the English and European game. This is why Granit Xhaka was pushed out of the door at the Emirates Stadium and replaced by the younger, and more talented, Declan Rice in the summer transfer window.
Rice has improved Arsenal’s midfield unit, but the goalkeeper position is a position unlike any other position on the pitch. Goalkeepers tend to produce their best form when they have a sense of security. When they know they have the backing of the manager. Raya’s jitters suggest he is nervous about having that from Arteta.
Arsenal boasted one of the best defences in the Premier League last season, but they have struggled to replicate this since the summer – the Gunners have kept just one clean sheet in five league matches at home. Injuries have been a factor in this, but the signing of Raya has also played a role in destabilising things. He’s a long way from being Arsenal’s Ederson right now.