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An open apology to Aaron Ramsdale

Arsenal’s new number one has proven many wrong, including us.

Leicester City v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Writing about sports means being wrong - a lot. Between match predictions and transfer speculation, the number of times we are wrong tends to outnumber the times we are right. With nothing at stake as a blogger, though, there is little to be accountable for, and our wrongness tends to be written off as poor prognostication, if not forgotten altogether.

But, sometimes, a wrong is in need of atonement. When it was reported a few months ago that Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale was bound for Arsenal, there were many voices of discontent. Among them was my own. The news of Arsenal’s interest in a twice-relegated keeper was a hard to wrap my mind around, which led me to write the following when the transfer hit a snag and it looked as though Ramsdale would not end up at Arsenal:

In all honesty, this could be a blessing in disguise. Despite Arsenal’s need for a backup to Bernd Leno, Sheffield’s asking price, which was in the neighborhood of £30m, was shockingly high for a keeper of Ramsdale’s caliber. With far more pressing needs to address, a back up keeper is not the top priority, and it would have bordered on criminally negligent for Arsenal to invest £30m for a keeper who doesn’t present a real threat to push to Bernd Leno, especially a season after selling Emi Martinez (you know, the guy who has become a top keeper in the PL and also would have counted as home grown) for a similar sum.

I could unpack the wrongness of my bad take over a great deal of paragraphs. After all, it isn’t often that a player proves their critics wrong with such emphatic swiftness. But I can say with certainty that this is one of the rare instances in my life in which I have never been happier to eat crow.

While the sample size of matches is noticeably small, Aaron Ramsdale has been nothing short of a revelation for the Gunners. In his short time with the club, the 23 year old shot stopper wasted little time supplanting veteran Bernd Leno as the club’s number one. With his swashbuckling approach to crosses, his press-breaking passes, and electric energy, Ramsdale’s early performances have quickly reminded the Arsenal faithful of what they have been sorely missing in recent years.

The stats have already begun to speak for themselves. Of all of the keepers in the Premier League, only league-leading Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy (89.7%) has a better save percentage than Ramsdale (85.7%) this season. That’s not bad company to keep. His eight saves against Leicester, including his Save of the Season candidate on James Maddison’s free-kick, were the most for a keeper on the road this season.

It hasn’t just been Arsenal fans noticing his performances. After his masterclass at the King Power Stadium last weekend, legendary Arsenal keeper David Seaman heaped praise on the young Gunner, as well as Peter Schmeichel, Manchester United legend and father of Leicester keeper Casper Schmeichel.

If his prowess between the posts wasn’t enjoyable enough, Ramsdale has also endeared himself to the Arsenal fandom with his immense personality. After a crucial defensive intervention, he can be seen applauding his defenders. He leads out of the back in a way that cannot help but be noticed - loudly and with urgency. He celebrates goals as though he scored them himself. And that smile. That damned smile. Few players look like they enjoy their job quite as much as Ramsdale, who looks like he just woke up in the middle of his own version of the movie Big, but instead of working for a toy company, he gets to be a Premier League keeper and loves every second of it.

Everywhere he has played, fans have loved him, and he has returned the love in kind. After helping the Gunners beat Aston Villa, he popped over to AFC Wimbledon, where he had previously spent a season on loan, to watch The Dons play Wigan Athletic and stayed after to have a kick-about with some young fans.

It is easy to chalk much of this glowing praise up to recency bias. Ramsdale has been in fine fettle and form, but who knows how sustainable his performances will be when Arsenal face the likes of Liverpool after the international break and the fixture list condenses? Ramsdale’s rise has come at the expense of Leno, not just on the pitch, but by the response from fans as well. Ramsdale’s animated energy is quite a noticeable difference compared to the stoic seriousness of Bernd Leno, but personality is hardly a meaningful metric. We are only two seasons removed from Leno being a finalist for Arsenal Player of the Year, and while his form last season left much to be desired, he has had inconsistent defenses in front of him since he came to North London. And, if we have learned anything from recent seasons, it is that we are one injury away from Leno resuming the starting position at Arsenal.

With seven matches behind him and many more left to play, Ramsdale has begun to prove himself more than deserving of an opportunity that many, including myself, thought was above his abilities. After a poor start to the season, his play has been a huge part of Arsenal’s success, and I shudder to think where we would be without his contributions so far.

Please keep proving the doubters wrong, Aaron.