The Three R’s of Arsenal

On May 18, Arsenal announced that Aaron Ramsdale had signed a new long-term deal at the club. The contract extension keeps him at the club until 2026, with an option for an additional year. Under the new agreement, the English keeper will reportedly earn £110,000 a week. After playing a key role in the Gunners’ unexpected title challenge the preceding season, Ramsdale was rewarded with a salary and job security befitting a starting keeper at a club competing for honors.

A mere 77 days later, Arsenal reportedly bid £20 million plus £3 million in add-ons for Brentford goalkeeper David Raya. The offer comes after Bayern, who have already lost one major target to the Gunners this summer, failed to agree personal terms with the Spaniard. The German champions had hoped to acquire Raya on a loan with an obligation to buy. But both the club and the player rejected this proposition. With just a year left on the player’s contract, Raya wants to leave this summer and Brentford want to recoup a fee.

Enter Arsenal. The Premier League runners-up have long been interested in Raya, their desire dating back to 2020. With funds to pay a reasonable transfer fee and a competitive wage package as well as the ambition of challenging for the Premier League and Champions League in the coming season, they are certainly an attractive destination for Raya. A reported quick agreement between him and Arsenal on personal terms comes as much.

That agreement on personal terms has led to Arsenal submitting their first bid for Raya. According to David Ornstein, that bid is expected to be turned down, but is not far off a valuation Brentford can accept. The Gunners are efficiently pouncing on a long-awaited opportunity. Barring a disaster in the closing stages, this move is probably happening.

Make no mistake — the acquisition of Raya is a monumental moment in the Mikel Arteta era at Arsenal Football Club. This summer has seen the Gunners improve in quality. The arrivals of Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber, and Declan Rice help ensure a higher ceiling when it comes to a given starting XI while also filling out the squad with more talented options. But to go out and get Raya when Ramsdale is already present, to instill that kind of competition in a position known for being especially hierarchical, is a statement. It is a declaration of intent. It is proof positive of a deep commitment to the three R’s that define the club’s mentality at this stage of the current project.

What are the three R’s, you might ask? “Reduce, reuse, recycle”? No, but you should do all of those things, and keep in mind that they are ordered by importance.

Well is it “rest, relax, and recharge” then? Also important to do, but also incorrect in this particular context.

How about “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic”? Close, but no cigar. Well actually, it’s not all that close. Also, there are many of these R trios out there, aren’t there?

We’ll begin with the first of Arsenal’s three R’s: ruthlessness. This is best demonstrated by Ramsdale’s situation. Matt Turner, in all honesty, was always a more handy Auston Trusty. To perhaps oversimplify it, both Americans joined the Gunners from an MLS side, primarily with the intention of getting their name out there in the European market and leaving should an opportunity to start at a respectable side present itself. Trusty has already departed to Sheffield United. Turner is currently the subject of a pursuit by Nottingham Forest, who have reportedly submitted a bid to Arsenal. His exit would be a win-win. For Turner, he would get to feature as the no. 1 keeper in a Premier League side as he stakes his claim to start for the 2026 World Cup hosts. Arsenal would make a profit on a keeper who, despite being a terrific shot-stopper, simply cannot facilitate the Gunners’ desire to play out from the back as much as is required.

What of Ramsdale, then? The Englishman has served as a pillar of Arteta’s Arsenal. His ability on the ball, a surprise to many, unlocked another dimension of the team’s style of play and has allowed them to progress to where they are now. He is one of the best keepers in the English top flight in his own right, and a less conservative manager than Gareth Southgate would probably have made him the country’s starting goalkeeper by now. A prodigious talent for a keeper, a cult hero, and now an advocate for marginalized communities, Ramsdale is a fabulous servant to the club.

To bring in Raya seems almost dismissive of what the current no. 1 has done at Arsenal. But the Brentford man has a better post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed (PSxG – GA) than Ramsdale – this basically means that he has prevented more goals than he was expected to. Ramsdale, meanwhile, has prevented less. Raya also is more accurate at long-range passing. According to goalkeeping expert John Harrison, Raya boasts better stats than his soon-to-be teammate in shot stopping, shot handling, cross claiming, and distribution. The Englishman, however, is demonstrably a better sweeper.

This is the ruthlessness that Arteta promised so long ago. Again, Ramsdale is a great keeper. Still very much ahead of his prime, he has the potential to reach the bracket occupied by Alisson and Ederson. But he has made his share of mistakes in recent months, and has always seemed to be a personality that needs to be under pressure to perform at their best. So Arsenal have done exactly that. They have seized an opportunity in the market and brought in a keeper who can rival or perhaps even better him, with a likely plan of dangling a single starting berth between the two like a scrap of meat between hungry wolves and leaving them to battle it out.

Either that serves as enough pressure to inspire Ramsdale to reach another level in his game, or Raya emerges victorious, hardened by battle and ready for the highest level of the sport. At the end of the day, Arsenal win either way. Such a ruthless approach practically forces players to improve, a phenomenon that is vital when challenging for the highest of honors.

It is something Arsenal have been doing for some time. Leandro Trossard’s arrival gave Gabriel Martinelli competition when it appeared he had the left wing position all to himself. For the foreseeable future Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko, two players who proved crucial during Arsenal’s title charge, will feel Timber breathing down their necks. Now, Raya will serve as a final warning that no one is safe from having to fight for their place.

The second of the three R’s is readiness, exemplified by Raya himself. A theme of last season’s closing stages was Arsenal being unprepared to deal with injuries. One couldn’t be blamed for thinking that losing William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu against Sporting effectively doomed the Gunners. With the two out for the season, someone on the fringes of the squad had to be relied on. Rob Holding proved to be a bad fit in Saliba’s stead and the manager decided that deploying Jakub Kiwior at right center back was less of a risk than playing someone other than Ben White at right back. Arsenal were not ready to handle a couple injuries, and they paid the price.

The potential signing of Raya is also a sign that Arteta wants to avoid making that mistake again. As stated before, Arsenal’s three current acquisitions give them a whole other level of optionality, not just for rotations based on opponent matchups but also in the event of injury. Gabriel Jesus is set to miss the first few weeks of the season but Trossard, Eddie Nketiah, and Kai Havertz can all fill the void until he returns. Zinchenko has missed all of preseason with a calf issue but Timber, Tomiyasu, Kiwior, and Kieran Tierney have all featured at left back in his absence.

Even if Raya does not win the starting job, he represents a version of that adaptability in the goalkeeper position. Previously, an injury to Ramsdale meant that Arsenal would have to lean more heavily on its back line in buildup, making the team more vulnerable to the press and easier to play against. But now, in the event Ramsdale misses time Raya can step in and perform to the same level as the starter. Arsenal would be ready for anything outside of a true doomsday scenario.

Would Raya be amenable to this arrangement? Certainly not forever. But it is likely that Arsenal have informed Raya, one of the better keepers in the league and about to enter his prime, that he will be able to duke it out with Ramsdale for starting keeper status and that should he not succeed, the club would allow him to leave in the future if a suitable team offers an acceptable fee for his services. In the meantime, Raya has the potential to get his hands on some silverware.

If Martin Ødegaard is unavailable for a few matches then Emile Smith Rowe, Fábio Vieira, and even Thomas Partey all can take his place. If Arsenal need a defender to overlap on the left instead of the right side, Timber can play as an inverted right back while Tierney bombs forward alongside Martinelli. If Ramsdale can’t go on a given day, Raya is there to take over. This is title-winning readiness.

The last of Arsenal’s three R’s is revolution. In one move, Arteta can potentially cause two seismic shifts at the club. The first is more certain: the culmination of a dramatic culture change compared to when Arsenal first hired him. When he took over, the squad was filled with overpaid, post-prime players who were content with the state of the club, a symptom of the disease of complacency that had infected Arsenal.

Almost four years later, things are vastly different. The squad is young and hungry, and uniquely aware of their responsibility to uphold the club’s values and honor its history. The board and owners are in pure lockstep with the manager and sporting director. Arsenal’s partnership and media teams have become more innovative. After years of derision and distrust, the club and supporters have established a strong connection. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of Arteta. 

But there is another revolution potentially brewing if Arsenal acquire Raya. It’s rare enough that teams can call on two high-level keepers. But it could be the case that Arteta aims to go a step further by rotating keepers depending on the opposition his side comes up against.

Yes, Ramsdale and Raya boast similar profiles. But Raya is a more accurate long-range distributor, once called a “No. 10 in goal” by Jurgen Klopp, and could easily be deployed whenever Arsenal wish to go over a team’s press. With pacey forwards in Saka, Martinelli, Jesus, Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson, it is an option against teams that press aggressively. But in other instances, perhaps against sides that sit back or deploy strong screens in the middle of the pitch, Ramsdale’s mid-range passing ability can be of more use. In this aspect, Raya appears inferior to the Englishman, although this could at least be partially because of the side he currently plays in.

The point is, the different on-the-ball strengths of Ramsdale and Raya could allow Arteta to follow a “horses for courses” approach. If this is indeed the idea behind acquiring Raya, it would be a revolutionary one. You would be hard-pressed to find a historical precedent for such a move.

In any case, employing two top keepers of equal quality is revolutionary enough. Teams have tried and failed to do so, and it will be interesting to see whether Arsenal can buck that trend. But having the option to rotate keepers according to tactical setups is exciting and uncharted territory. Success in this regard would make Arteta a true trailblazer.

Those are the three R’s of Arsenal: ruthlessness despite Ramsdale’s aptitude, readiness for most scenarios with Raya as an option, and revolution pursued by R-teta (sorry, but it had to be done here). The acquisition of Raya from Brentford would be the pinnacle of Arsenal’s dedication to these principles. It would be ruthless. It would ensure readiness. And it would emphasize one revolution at the club while perhaps sparking another. And maybe, just maybe, it would contribute to Arsenal achieving a fourth R: realization.

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