On Saturday Aaron Ramsdale has 90 minutes to change the trajectory of his Arsenal career when the side takes on Brentford. It will almost certainly not be enough time. Such is the challenge of playing behind one of Europe's most robust defenses. Given the solidity that is being shown ahead of him, it seems highly unlikely that Ramsdale's return to the XI will follow anything like the scenario that was put to Mikel Arteta in his pre-match press conference. "Hopefully he doesn't need to stop two penalties and he does have an amazing game," said the Arsenal manager.
It is only because of David Raya's ineligibility to face his parent club that Ramsdale will return to the side. That may be it for the England international between now and the new year. Perhaps the final group game of the Champions League will be a dead rubber if Lyon are beaten at home on Wednesday night. That could be his lot. Arteta and Arsenal insist publicly and privately that the starting spot between the posts is still up for grabs, but their actions speak far louder.
Golazo Starting XI Newsletter
Get your Soccer Fix from Around the Globe
Your ultimate guide to the Beautiful Game as our experts take you beyond the pitch and around the globe with news that matters.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The loan with option to buy that Arsenal struck with Saturday's opponent robs them of the chance to use the Spaniard at his former home of Griffin Park, but it allowed them more financial flexibility both in the summer market and January. They decided to seal the deal with Raya before the loan was even finalized and, barring an extremely unlikely set of events, one of their first pieces of business when the window opens in June 2024 will be to activate the £27 million buy option.
With Euro 2024 on the horizon and precious few games for Ramsdale to potentially feature in between now and then, matters ought to be moving to a head. If the 25-year-old is to usurp Jordan Pickford in the England pecking order -- an unlikely state of events given Gareth Southgate's loyalty to his No. 1 -- and perhaps even retain his place in the squad, he would need more than the odd cup game to make his mark.
However, CBS Sports sources suggest that clubs who have expressed an interest in securing Ramsdale in January, whether on loan or a permanent basis, have got short shrift from Arsenal. The Gunners hierarchy have not indicated a price at which they would be willing to cash in on their backup goalkeeper, a Yashin Trophy nominee whose stock will only diminish if he is stuck on the Emirates Stadium bench.
It is probable that Ramsdale will leave eventually, but Arsenal would not want to push such a talent out of the door. There will be those who well remember the nervous reaction of the Emirates Stadium whenever their No.1 slipped to the deck last season and Matt Turner went to warm up. It might be unsustainable to have two starter quality goalkeepers, but it is no less of a challenge for Arteta if he has a backup who cannot offer sufficient on ball qualities.
So far, Ramsdale has offered nothing on the training pitch or on the field to have Arsenal question his attitude. He trains diligently and is a popular figure in the dressing room. His last appearance might have seen him concede three goals in an EFL Cup defeat to West Ham United, but in possession it was apparent he was attempting to incorporate some of Raya's best qualities, keeping the ball at his feet to force the opposition press.
Even though his father's interview with podcast The Highbury Squad during the international break laid bare a young man who has "lost that smile," there has been no suggestion Ramsdale is pushing for a way out. The January market tends not to be awash with clubs looking to change their starting goalkeeper. The 25-year-old is expected to take his time and would not rush out of the Emirates Stadium door for a team that does not offer a pathway that would allow him to show his qualities at the highest level.
Ramsdale must know, however, that it is not really within his power to change the starting goalkeeper at Arsenal. In reality only Raya can do that. Despite that particularly high profile moment against Chelsea where a Mykhailo Mudryk cross beat him at the near post, the Spaniard might just about feel he has done enough to merit Arteta's decision to sign him.
That was not a decision met with universal praise externally or internally. CBS Sports understands that there were dissenting voices within the recruitment department when Arsenal made their move for Raya, a player who worked under their goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana at Brentford. Ultimately, it was a move that was pushed for by Arteta, whose eye for talent has been vindicated in a string of deals throughout recent years. This one felt rather different to past signings, more a relative upgrade than overhaul.
So far Arteta can feel that he has won the argument. The sample size might be small, all the more so because Arsenal give up so few shots, but in 12 games Raya has kept six clean sheets, conceding just nine goals, while he has prevented 1.2 according to Opta's post-shot expected goals model. It is natural that goalkeepers' errors tend to obscure their best saves but he has had moments when he has repelled pressure, particularly excelling in the north London derby.
When Raya arrived there were questions, including on this website, as to how much his impressive passing numbers were aided by having Ivan Toney to aim at. However the 28 year old is proving himself to be adept on the ball, whether that is pushing high up enough to function as another center back in possession or through his long balls, which he is completing more successfully this season than last. Kai Havertz has proven to be a useful target from kick offs whilst almost every pass Raya clips out to the right flank and Ben White seems to progress Arsenal swiftly up the pitch.
That Mudryk goal might loom large on Raya's early resume, especially given that it is not the first high-profile occasion where he has been caught out at his near post. Equally, his proactive positioning when the ball comes in has its rewards. The average Premier League goalkeeper claims 5.8 percent of crosses delivered into their area. Raya reaches 14.1 percent, by far the leading mark among regulars in the division. He is aggressive off his line, springy when he leaps and when he punches the ball it tends to fly off his glove. Even when he wildly miscued one against Sevilla, his sheer proactivity might ultimately have denied the opposition a goal at the back post, where numbers were massed.
Raya's worst moments may have drawn quite the glare, but he is performing well enough, certainly some way above the level of performances that will have Arteta questioning his convictions. While that is the case all Ramsdale can do is wait.