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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Malik Ouzia

Why Arsenal’s David Raya deal makes perfect sense as Aaron Ramsdale battle begins

Go back to the Covid summer of 2020, to the final game at Griffin Park, a play-off semi-final win over Swansea, and as Brentford’s dressing-room celebrations echo quietly around an empty ground, David Raya returns to the field to cut himself a section of the net he has guarded all season.

Had things turned out a little differently, that souvenir of the old ground’s farewell might just as easily have come to be one of his own. Later the same summer, Arsenal made their first move for the goalkeeper, a series of bids around £10million rejected, even with Brentford preparing for another season in the Championship. Three years on, the Gunners finally have their man.

The pursuit in the intervening period has hardly been relentless, the ship seeming to have sailed after Arsenal resolved their goalkeeping quandary with the signing of Aaron Ramsdale and then rewarded the Englishman for two excellent seasons with a new long-term contract only months ago.

Even now, with Raya through the door on a loan that could become permanent next summer, plenty have questioned the wisdom of Mikel Arteta’s fourth purchase of this window, one that most had not considered even a greedy want, never mind a need.

Let battle commence: David Raya will challenge Aaron Ramsdale for the Arsenal starting job (Getty Images)

It is worth, though, considering the fragility of the status quo. Imagine for a moment that rather than defender Jurrien Timber hobbling off with a serious knee injury on the opening weekend of the season, it had been Ramsdale. Then imagine the immediate panic that would have set in over Arsenal’s prospects for the rest of the campaign without the knowledge that Raya, a player of similar talent and profile, was already inbound.

Or recall the end of the season before last, when Kieran Tierney’s absence from the run-in was blamed as a major factor in the Gunners’ surrendering of fourth place to Tottenham. Few envisioned then that the Scot would, the following year, come to be viewed as a notable downgrade whenever forced to deputise for new arrival Oleksandr Zinchenko. Things can change quickly.

Which is not to say that they necessarily will for Ramsdale, who is the incumbent and has earned the right to defend his shirt — simply that they could, as the 25-year-old well knows having displaced Bernd Leno in not dissimilar circumstances after his own move to the Emirates. Nor does it mean that Arteta does not have a tricky balancing act on his hands.

The concern around Raya and Ramsdale’s coexistence ultimately stems from the theory that both are too good to play second fiddle long-term

Premier League stalwart Shay Given highlighted the double-edged sword last week, players liable to be spurred on by competition but inhibited by the fear that one mistake could be enough for the axe to fall. Given, incidentally, knows the scenario well, having kept the archetypal No2 Steve Harper out of the Newcastle side for what felt like eternity, then lifted the only major trophy of his career, the FA Cup, with Manchester City, despite not featuring in the competition, or the League, all year.

Arsenal could play upwards of 60 games this term, but as much as both keepers will no doubt be called upon, there can be only one No1 and a hierarchy is sure to emerge, even if dividing up Premier League and Champions League duty would narrow the gap between headline and understudy.

The concern around Raya and Ramsdale’s coexistence ultimately stems from the theory that both are too good to play second fiddle long-term, and perhaps that will prove to be true. But with Matt Turner leaving, Arsenal needed someone for the here and now. Would bringing in a worse player have been a better move? The question answers itself.

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