Aaron Ramsdale looked a shell of the character and keeper we know him to be during and after Arsenal’s huge win at Brentford, all because of Mikel Arteta’s pretence…
A late win in a London derby to go to the top of the Premier League? Everyone with Arsenal in their hearts enjoyed that. Except Aaron Ramsdale.
The England international’s recall was forced upon Mikel Arteta by David Raya’s ineligibility, and the necessity of his selection, rather than any show of faith, plagued Ramsdale for 90 uncomfortable minutes. Forty-five of them excruciating.
Still, the 25-year-old kept his sheet clean, if perhaps not his pants, during a test set amid conditions in which he is almost doomed to fail.
Arteta, as an innovative coach, will know that not every experiment is a success. This one, playing his goalkeepers off against one another, certainly has not yielded the desired result – unless that was to manufacture enough pressure upon Ramsdale to squeeze him out of the Emirates.
It was uncomfortable watching the England no.2 during the first half when Ramsdale showed exactly the kind of indecision that wrecks a goalkeeper’s head and reputation. There were no major technical aberrations – only the kind of mistakes prompted by a foggy mind and the glare from a blinding spotlight.
Declan Rice bailed out his mate when Ramsdale dallied on the ball while his instinct to play safe fought with Arteta’s demand to bait and play around a press. The escape did not calm Ramsdale’s jitters. The keeper changed his mind mid-throw and while, once more, there were no dire consequences, the schoolboy error highlighted his shredded nerves.
Arteta’s approach would be unlikely to succeed with any profile of goalkeeper but Ramsdale’s character demands the faith of his manager if he is to function as a top-class stopper, which we all know he can be. Just not in these circumstances.
Much was made of his revelation that he struggles to concentrate for 45 minutes, let alone 90. That admission came in May when Ramsdale was secure in his position and in control of his chimp. Arteta’s approach, though, is akin to giving the monkey to the key to his own cage while slipping him LSD.
Conversations were clearly had at half-time, because in the second half, Ramsdale felt empowered to play safe and long. Or maybe he just thought ‘f*** it’. Regardless, keeping it simple went a long way to keeping a clean sheet that meant Havertz’s late winner was good for all three points.
Havertz himself has come under much scrutiny this season and at full-time, Arteta was desperate for the German to take his acclaim. Quite rightly so. But the manager made no fuss of Ramsdale, barely offering a word to his keeper before making a beeline for Havertz.
Ramsdale’s team-mates showed plenty of love for their last line of defence, three of them congratulating him upon a caught cross in added time – as much to kill time as a gesture of appreciation – before he was mobbed upon the full-time whistle, blown while the keeper clung longingly to the ball.
Inevitably, the cameras focused on the keeper, who looked thoroughly shot upon completion of his clean sheet. There were at least four sighs of relief heaved before Ramsdale made his way to the jubilant Arsenal fans, and none of the usual joy or exuberance we might usually expect from a character who wouldn’t usually miss a chance to play to the crowd.
Arteta pretended pre-match that Ramsdale had a chance to retain his place if ‘he does really well’. The manager might suggest he didn’t so he won’t. And you wouldn’t blame Ramsdale if being dispatched back to the bench comes as a relief because the scrutiny would be no less intense if he was to line up against Lens in midweek.
Beating Brentford wasn’t fun for Ramsdale. The stress he so clearly felt but, creditably, didn’t collapse under is down to Arteta’s pretence. Goalkeepers need clarity, even if it based on a verdict they welcome. The only certainty, for Ramsdale and Arsenal, is that the current situation cannot continue. Arteta should be clear, with his keepers if not the wider world, how he views their hierarchy. And once that has been spelled out, Ramsdale needs to get out and play for another club where he might rediscover the smile his dad declared missing.