One of the most interesting aspects of Saturday’s team selection was the decision to start Aaron Ramsdale over Bernd Leno.
The German hasn’t been bad this season and has made some good saves in a few games. Still, there were moments. Not for that cross in the Man City game (not that I think it would have changed much, and Calum Chambers was still to blame for the header) and the second goal against Brentford, which I think I can fair to say he did The foul was too weak at the same time.
However, I don’t think the change was made based on just those three games. Leno has been a good goalkeeper for us since his arrival and in his early days it was like having a goalkeeper Cesc Fabregas with the ball at your feet compared to Petr Cech who looked like Clumpy Joe trying to get the ball off Playing back the game and almost scored own goals on a simple pass. It feels kind of terrifying how quickly he lost his trust in this regard.
I was wondering about his recent tendency to play for long with shots on goal so often, if it was due to his lack of confidence, but lest we forget, let’s remember what Mikel Arteta said when asked if he was get nervous when his team plays from behind:
No. I get nervous when we kick the ball for a long time! The faster it goes there, the faster it comes back. I prefer to do that with the right structure, the right timing and the right spaces.
Playing from behind seems to be central to the way Arteta wants his team to play and we haven’t done that as well as we should lately. Admittedly, it is more difficult against teams like Man City and Chelsea, but the game against Brentford also showed that. When they pushed up the first time, we pissed our pants and decided to go long from there. But isn’t that the point of the game? You “lure” the opponent in, you work the ball over him, and then the playing field is open, the game is stretched and from there you try to take advantage of this space and the men you have bypassed.
It’s too early to tell how big the difference is between the two goalkeepers. In the vaguely comparable game, Leno made 23/23 short passes against Brentford, Ramsdale made 16/16 against Norwich, while Leno’s 3/9 long passes are essentially identical to Ramsdale’s 4/9 on Saturday. Interestingly, however, Ramsdale made 5 long passes in the opposing attacking third, Leno only 1 against Brentford, so the new man could well have an advantage when it comes to distance. As I said, the sample size is so small that we need more data to be able to make definitive statements.
However, Arteta was interesting afterwards when asked about Ramsdale’s performance, saying:
It’s not just what he’s done on the technical side, it’s what he transmits, his energy, his chemistry with the backline, how he reacts, his body language … I think it’s great.
As James mentioned in the Arsecast and as others have spoken about, Ramsdale seems to have more about him in terms of his personality, how he communicates with his defenders and so on, and while that can’t be measured by statistics, I think that so it is so important for a goalkeeper. Obviously Leno is talking too, he’s not a quiet character, but he’s not that exuberant and ostentatious, and when Arteta made his decision, I suspect that was a factor. He had to change his team, not just personally but also in character and Ramsdale is definitely different.
I think it’s also fair to point out that when Ramsdale was playing around in the back, he had Ben White and Gabriel in front of him; Leno had Rob Holding and Pablo Mari who just aren’t that secure owned. I don’t think Leno helped any of them with a dubious distribution, but if you want to be a team that builds from the back, the previous pairing isn’t going to get you where you need to go. I also think the differences between our first choice center-backs and their backers will become even more apparent as the season progresses.
But back to the goalkeepers, and the decision over the weekend means that the “number 1” jersey is now Ramsdale to lose. I don’t think you can basically drop a senior player like Leno and then just bring him back when his replacement has done well and zeroed out on his Premier League debut. It was inevitable that a £ 24m signing would become the first choice, it was always only a matter of time, but I hadn’t expected it anytime soon. However, you can understand why it happened, and the question now is how is Leno reacting?
We know his future is in doubt, but how hard will he fight to regain his place? This is essentially new to him. He was the first choice at Bayer Leverkeusen at a young age and remained number one until Arsenal signed him. Even the time he stood behind Cech after signing us was short. He knew it was only a matter of time before he grabbed an old player by the last legs, but now he’s been replaced – and at 29 it will sting. It is very young in a keeper’s life.
I don’t think he will be here beyond this season, but he has to show some kind of fight to win a new club, keep his place in the international line-up and just have his professional pride. Players want to play and I’m sure he’s no different.
Ramsdale said after Norwich:
I don’t know what the manager is going to do. This might just have been a tactical tweak, so it’s my responsibility to force him to keep picking me, which I have to do on a daily basis.
Me and Bernd will be very competitive in a good way, healthy and hopefully I can stay in the team.
I suspect that some of Leno’s indifferent accomplishments resulted from a lack of real competition. Until Emi Martinez blossomed after the German’s injury during this period, he was a very obvious second choice, few who thought the Argentine should take his place at any point. When he left, Alex Runarsson was no match for Alex Runarsson, and Mat Ryan, on loan, was not a permanent threat to him either.
I’m not saying he was complacent, but almost every player needs real competition to keep them going. Leno didn’t have it and I think his level went down because of it. He definitely got it now and it will be fascinating to see how he reacts. Saturday may not have been a wake-up call, but perhaps a brief, sharp shock to the system can help both him and Ramsdale as the season progresses.
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