Say what you will about the ball going out of bounds or Joelinton cradling said ball between both arms before shoving Gabriel to the ground before said ball falling to Anthony Gordon who scored from an offside position. Any one of those should have been enough to disallow the goal, nevermind all four of them at once. And yet. All of that would have been water under a bridge had Raya, our £28m signing (er, loan), dealt with Willock’s cross as one might expect any keeper at this level would have.
Let’s be fair. A lot of players switched off when they assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the ball had rolled out of bounds after Murphy’s shot. Jorginho and White were perhaps the most culpable, dithering inside the 18 while watching Willock collect the ball and prepare a cross in. We might also fault Saliba or Rice for failing to mark Gordon’s near-post run even as the ball floated over him. None of this would matter in the slightest if Raya had dealt with the cross as he should have—and it’s not the first time he’s flubbed his lines.
It was just short of a month ago against Man City that Raya flailed rather helplessly at a floating cross in from Gvardiol, leaving it to sail past his outstretched fingers. If Erling Haaland was anything at resembling a clinical finisher, we’d have gone into halftime down a goal. It’s a good thing for us that Haaland is little more than a blond Andy Carroll.
More seriously, there’s something to be concerned about regarding Raya’s struggles with these crosses. Neither the one from Gvardiol nor the one from Willock was all that difficult; in both cases, Raya should have had plenty of time to position himself properly, judge the trajectory of the ball, and punch clear if not claim the ball outright. That we very nearly got punished for his failure to deal with the cross against Man City is one thing. Getting punished for it against Newcastle is another. Each side is a contender for a top-four spot if not the top-spot. What does this frailty suggest against weaker sides whose attacks will consist of crosses whipped in with greater frequency?
It’s not as if Man City depend on crosses into Haaland to score. It’s possible that a Newcastle side deprived of Isak and Tonali among others would turn to that hoof-and-hope approach. If Raya can’t contend with gently floated balls inside the six, it’s only a matter of time before the likes of Wolves or Fulham or even Man U try to exploit this soft underbelly.
This is not what we paid for when we loaned Raya in.
The ostensible idea was that there would be competition at the one position at which competition was anathema. No club keeps two keepers capable of starting at just about any club in the league, or so tradition tells us. Arteta boldly went where no club has gone before in signing Raya, but the results have been decidedly mixed. Say what you will about Ramsdale’s performance against West Ham; it would be harsh indeed to fault him for any of the three goals we conceded.
Say what you will about Raya’s superiority on paper. By that standard, he’s clearly the better keeper. However, he’s hardly blown anyone away by his performances on the pitch. If anything, he deserves to be benched even if his replacement is Almunia-esque or Fabianski-ish (or would it be Almunia-ish or Fabianski-esque?).
Whatever the case may be, we have a selection-dilemma that feels just a bit too obvious. Competition for a starting spot is supposed to bring out the best in every player. Let it bring out the best in Raya and Ramsdale as well.