Two starts. Two clean sheets. It appears that Aaron Ramsdale’s reign is over and David Raya’s has already begun. Relegated to the bench against Everton and PSV after failing to keep clean sheets in four of our first five matches, it could be that Ramsdale will be lucky to play in League Cup and FA Cup matches while Raya gobbles up the Prem and Champions League minutes. It’s just that simple. It’s tradition. You have one keeper who starts and one who sits unless there’s an emergency…right?
Reality has a way of being somewhat more nuanced, however. Speaking to journalists, Raya hit the nail on the head when he said, “I think it’s the first time that two top goalies are on the same team, so that’s just part of the football and the gaffer wants two top players for every position.” We’re used to seeing rotation at just about every other position to some degree or another. Substitutions are made due to tactics, fitness, niggles. The player between the sticks? He’s seen as much more of a permanent fixture.
Now, however, and arguably for the first time, a club has two keepers, each of whom could probably start for almost every other club in the Prem. We’ve seen the position revolutionised to the point that traditional keepers like David de Gea have been rendered all but obsolete. Our own Bernd Leno, one of of the best players of the post-Wenger era, was himself displaced with a quickness by Ramsdale due in large part to Leno’s discomfort with the ball at his feet.
By contrast with Ramsdale’s replacement by Raya, Leno could at least point to the precipitating factor of his getting injured by Neal Maupay. He wasn’t “dropped” so much as replaced (although the replacement was looming, given Leno’s own discomfort with the ball at his feet). Ramsdale has to feel more like he’s been dropped, but he’s taken that in stride, at least publicly. “Bring it on,” he’s said when asked about competition at the keeper position. “We’ll fight and we’ll make each other best version of ourselves.” We’re quick to make that claim for all of the outfield positions—competition will bring out each player’s best—but it’s going to take a mental adjustment for a lot of us to see the keeper position in the same way.
Ramsdale has a few built-in advantages that might make that adjustment difficult for many. He’s a likable bloke, adept at shithousery; he’s British and is pushing Pickford for the Three Lions. He played a huge role in our title-tilt last year. To see him “dropped” then seems to fly in the face of not only tradition or intertia but also logic and nostalgia. He’s still quite good even if his levels have dropped somewhat.
Is that drop any surprise, really? His competition prior to Raya’s arrival was Matt Turner, an affable American who only started playing footy aged 14. As for Ramsdale’s failure to keep clean sheets in the early going, let’s remember that Arteta was doing a lot of tinkiering. Magalhães had been dropped. Zinchenko was injured. Timber was playing an inverted fullback at White’s expense. When Timber was felled, Partey was deployed at fullback with White moved to centre-back. That’s a fair amount of shuffling for a keeper to contend with, and it’s not as if Ramsdale was guilty of any howlers in the interim. Should he have come up with a worldie or two to keep another clean sheet? Do I know what a rhetorical question is? On both counts, sure.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, though. By most objective metrics, especially distribution and shot-stopping, Raya is the superior keeper. For as much as he’s shown it regarding the former, he hasn’t had much of a chance to prove it regarding the latter, but I suspect he’ll start against Tottenham on Sunday. Maybe. The case could be made that Ramsdale should start because he’s familiar with the roiling cauldron that is the North London Derby. Whatever decision Arteta makes will inspire all sorts of clickbait headlines.
I can just imagine Kai Havertz heaving a sigh of relief as he sees that he’s no longer the scandal du jour. Whoever’s between the sticks on Sunday, all of the pressure is off of him. That’s some 4-d chess from Arteta right there. Wouldn’t it be something to see all of the media’s attention diverted to the non-story of Raya v. Ramsdale only for Havertz to nip in and score to remind Tottenham what colour London is?