The signing of Aaron Ramsdale for £24m was heavily scrutinised by Arsenal fans. The concern was situated in the Stoke-born goalkeeper suffering consecutive relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United, conceding 128 goals in two seasons. Despite the angst around the signing, Mikel Arteta was determined to secure his signature. So far, that determination has been validated.
The main criticism levelled at Bernd Leno was his hesitation on the ball, such a trait that caused panic in Arsenal’s defence as they attempted to evade the opposition’s press. The same can’t be said for Ramsdale. So far this season, the Englishman has completed 30 passes per 90, with a 75% success rate. All his passes under 30 yards have successfully found their target, it’s only when trying long balls when his pass has failed to find an Arsenal player.
By contrast, Leno has completed 19 passes per 90, with a 67% success rate. So not only has Ramsdale attempted more passes than Leno, but he has also been more accurate with his distribution. Ramsdale looks to be the more ‘proactive’ goalkeeper, whilst Leno appears more ‘reactive’. There are two obvious caveats to this. Firstly, the sample size is extremely limited. Secondly, Leno was faced with much tougher opposition; Chelsea and Manchester City, making passing from the back a more complicated task.
Away from the stats, the comfort and confidence that Ramsdale adds when Arsenal look to pass out from the back is apparent. Ramsdale is intent on being proactive with his distribution, passing the ball both accurately and as quickly as possible. With Leno, the opposite is true, the German would dither on the ball, allowing the opposition to regain shape and most likely win the ball back.
Against Brentford on matchday 1, Leno panicked as Brentford pressed, resulting in him lofting the ball back to a Brentford player. On Ramsdale’s debut against Norwich, he resisted Teemu Pukki’s press by performing a body feint, before spraying a ball to Nicolas Pepe. One instance invites pressure onto Arsenal’s goal, whereas the other sets up Arsenal for opportunities in transition.
Ramsdale’s effective communication also helps Arsenal in beating the press out of their defensive third. Against Burnley, Ramsdale passes through the Burnley press onto Thomas Partey’s right-foot, before directing him on the next pass to play. In a similar incident last season, Leno passed the ball to Granit Xhaka, but this time the pass was on the Swiss’s weaker right-foot and Leno gave little to no communication to Xhaka on the looming threats that were swarming in on him.
It resulted in Xhaka kicking the ball at Chris Wood who then inadvertently diverted it into Arsenal’s net. Whilst much of the blame lies with Xhaka, the added passing ability and constant communication of Ramsdale will provide Arsenal with greater passing lanes and a better understanding of their surroundings when picking up the ball in their defensive third.
Turf Moor can provide one of the toughest tests for goalkeepers aerially. Ramsdale stood up to the test, using his 6’2 frame to come and claim crosses that rained in on the Arsenal penalty box. After the match Arteta praised Ramsdale for his ‘presence and how he dominates his area’.
Last season, he managed to claim 9.5% of crosses that came into his penalty area, placing him in the 86th percentile. Ramsdale’s ability to claim aerial balls not only takes the pressure off Arsenal’s defence, but can also set the team up to break in transition, when Ramsdale releases the ball quickly.
It’s still very early days for Ramsdale, and so far the two opponents he’s faced are expected to be in a relegation battle. However, his communication skills, ability to claim crosses, and most importantly, ability on the ball, have given Arsenal’s new-look back five an added aura of confidence.
Arteta will not only be hoping that Ramsdale can keep as many clean sheets as possible, but also become the base of Arsenal’s attacks, as they slowly look to mould into the press-resistant team that the Spaniard so desperately craves.
By: Joseph Odell / @IncogFootball
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Marc Atkins – Getty Images