In an about face from a few days ago when the reporting was Aaron Ramsdale-to-Arsenal was basically dead and buried, the Gunners are once again closing in on a transfer move for the Sheffield United goalkeeper. Per David Ornstein, the deal is worth £24M + £6M in add-ons that will trigger if Ramsdale becomes the number one keeper. According to The Athletic, the deal is done save for personal terms and Ramsdale passing an Arsenal medical.
Sheffield United came back to the table willing to accept a lesser offer rather than Arsenal improving theirs, so hooray for that small negotiating victory, I suppose. It feels like every report I read had the Blades seeking more for Ramsdale: apparently their initial ask was £40M. My understanding is that it’s because they want to make a profit on a guy they bought from Bournemouth for £18.5M with a sell-on clause in the deal.
The price Arsenal are paying isn’t great. The Gunners are paying a significant homegrown tax (but there may or may not be additional homegrown regulations down the line in the Premier League in the coming years). The move would make Ramsdale one of the most expensive keeper transfers ever, behind Kepa Arrizabalaga (2018, £71M), Alisson (2018, £65M), Thibault Courtois (2018, £35M), Ederson (2017, £35M), Gianluigi Buffon (2001, £32.1M) and just ahead of Jordan Pickford (2017, £25M).
His boxcars aren’t very good, nor is the fact that he’s been relegated from the Premier League the past two seasons. But the advanced statistics from FBRef paint a somewhat-different picture. He’s a good shot-stopper and has a strong command of the area in the air. That second part — ability to claim crosses, corners, and free kicks — would be a significant upgrade on Bernd Leno (see e.g. Brentford’s second goal). Arsenal rate Ramsdale’s distribution with both his hands and his feet highly as well.
He’s faced a ton of shots in his career and a disproportionate number of high-quality chances. It’s tough to look good as a keeper playing in front of a Swiss cheese defense, even if you’re the greatest keeper ever. Obviously, I’m not saying Ramsdale is, but you have to keep in mind that keepers, perhaps more than any other player on the pitch, are reliant on the team around them to look good. I think if you stick Ramsdale behind the Arsenal defense (once Ben White has settled in) he’d look a much different and better keeper.
Ramsdale Save % last two seasons 68.5%, Leno 71.6%— Orbinho (@Orbinho) August 18, 2021
Goals conceded Ramsdale 125 - Expected Goals against 117.6
Goals conceded Leno 78, Expected Goals Against 74.5
The Gunners needed another bona-fide, first-team keeper for this season. The club was a Bernd Leno injury away from starting either one of two 19-year old prospects (Karl Hein or Arthur Okonkwo) or a guy who may or may not have wrists (Alex Runarsson). Ramsdale is a professional, Premier League keeper, which fills that significant hole in the roster.
More importantly, Ramsdale at 23 is basically the same goalkeeper Bernd Leno is at 29. The buy is as much for the future as it is for right now. Leno is out of contract in June 2023, and if the Gunners haven’t sold him before then, he’s leaving on a free transfer. Arsenal needed their next keeper, and hopefully Aaron Ramsdale is it.
Twenty-three is young in goalkeeper years (also in regular human years, but that isn’t the point). Keepers play at a high level well into their 30’s and presumably continue to develop over at least some of that timeframe, too. Ramsdale has more than a decade of improvement ahead of him.
Plus, look around at the top leagues in Europe — you won’t find many guys in their early twenties playing regularly. Ramsdale already has two seasons in the Premier League and two more in the Championship, plus international experience with England to boot.
I like the idea of buying a keeper with significant amounts of experience for his age and plenty of room and time to improve. And a move for Ramsdale fits with the Arsenal’s clear summer strategy of buying young.
I’ll also admit that I’m not as happy about the Ramsdale move as I am about the rest of Arsenal’s summer business, mostly because of the price. But there are plenty of reasons to think he’ll be a solid starting keeper down the road. And given his age and comparatively high starting point, he might become a standout. And if it doesn’t work, he’ll be in his mid-20’s and homegrown when Arsenal move him on, which should net out about even.
If you still aren’t sold on Ramsdale, consider this: in a season where the club gave up bags of goals and was relegated, he was still voted Sheffield United’s Young Player and Overall Player of the Year. Blades supporters aren’t too pleased to see him go, which is a pretty good barometer. You should worry about the guys the supporters are happy to see leave — that’s not Ramsdale.
For those of you who’d like a deeper dive, this is a very good video on Ramsdale.
Arsenal came into the transfer window with a not-insignificant list of needs. As evidenced by the summer business, they had a plan to fill them. And they got the job done. They’ve still got a few players to sell off, and they could do with a proper right back, but for me, this window has been quite successful.