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Arsenal position preview: goalkeeper

It’s Bernd Leno, and uh, not much else right now.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal: The MIND Series Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

You probably don’t want to look at or think about Arsenal’s goalkeeper situation right now. At least not if you care about your heart health and stress levels. Because it’s “Bernd Leno and [sharp intake of breath] yikes” on the depth chart. Ostensibly Alex Runarsson is the #2 and Arthur Okonkwo is the #3, but neither are a viable option should Bernd Leno miss an extended period of time. Arsenal tried and failed to loan Runarsson to Turkish side Altay S.K., so that should tell you just about all you need to know.

I’ve had the Alex Runarsson experience, can’t say I recommend it. The Icelandic keeper played so poorly in his appearances last season that Arsenal were forced into a half season loan for Mat Ryan (who I have no idea why they didn’t sign on a free transfer, but I digress) because they literally could not risk being forced into playing Runarsson. I made this joke on Twitter, but Alex Runarsson is what you’d get if you turned one of those inflatable, arm-waving tube guy things that you see outside used car dealerships into a goalkeeper.

Arthur Okonkwo just signed his first professional contract this summer. The club rates him highly, but he’s 19 years old, hasn’t ever played a senior competitive minute, and looked (understandably) a bit shaky in his preseason appearances. The Gunners also had 19-year old academy player Karl Hein suit up in preseason. He looked fine, but he’s not the answer.

The $64,000 question is will Edu & Mikel Arteta bring in another keeper before the transfer window closes on August 31st. They have to, right? Arsenal have been heavily linked with Sheffield United keeper Aaron Ramsdale, but the Blades have thus far doggedly stuck to their £30M valuation. That number is absurd, and it seems like Arsenal know it. They’ve made several bids for the keeper, but even the most recent one was reportedly £18M with up to £7M in add-ones. I don’t like the move, even at that number.

I would much prefer the Gunners move for Sam Johnstone, with whom they were linked earlier in the summer and who was held out of West Brom’s match at the weekend, seemingly in anticipation of a transfer. Johnstone, 28, is a much better keeper (IMO) than the 23-year old Ramsdale, but that age difference might matter to the Arsenal brass. Johnstone would be much cheaper, with reports that he could move for as little as £12M.

It’s going to be a bummer when Edu spends the Joe Willock money on Aaron Ramsdale.


Bernd Leno, 29
Best case: he improves on the form that has made him one of the most important players at the club the past few seasons. Seriously, his stellar play has earned the Gunners far more points than his occasional passing blunder has cost them. If he cleans up his passing and improves his command of the area (his biggest weakness), he’d deserve mention in the “best keeper in the Premier League” conversation. He wouldn’t be the best, but among them, absolutely. That’s his ceiling, and I could see him getting there this year.

Worst case: Leno did not seem as consistent last season as he had in the previous years, which feels slightly strange to say about the #1 keeper at the club that surrendered the third fewest goals in the PL last season. That inconsistency could continue or get worse. The elephant in the room is that he isn’t committed to Arsenal long-term. That’s no secret — he’s said that he’d like to return to the Bundesliga at some point to finish his career. And with the mixed reports on whether Arsenal were looking to sign a backup this summer or genuine competition for Leno this summer, I can see a slow start from Leno spiraling into a “does he want to be here” slash “who is the best keeper at Arsenal” (if they bring somebody else in) controversy pretty quickly.

Alex Runarsson, 26
Best case: he doesn’t play a minute of football for the club this season. I’m kidding. Kind of. Yes, he was bad last year, but goalkeeper coach Inaki Cana reportedly wanted Runarsson at the club and saw something in him. Maybe whatever that was shows out this season, Runarsson has a handful of fine / good appearances in the cups, and is sold next summer.

Worst case: he plays a lot of minutes for the club this season and is just as poor as he was last season. Again, Arsenal are a Bernd Leno injury on September 1st (after the window closes and the Gunners can’t buy an emergency replacement) from this being a reality. I do not like that.

Arthur Okonkwo, 19
Best case: plays a game or two in the Carabao Cup and isn’t terrible. It’s a low bar for him this season given his age and it being his first year as a full professional. He started training with the first team last season, and another season of that should help his development. That’s all this season (and probably the next, and even the one after that) is about.

Worst case: Bernd Leno gets hurt. Arsenal didn’t / can’t bring in an emergency replacement. Alex Runarsson tries to step in and is terrible, as expected. Okonkwo gets thrust under way more pressure than rightfully should be placed on a 19-year old and is overmatched. Or maybe he surprises us, but then that wouldn’t be the worst case scenario, would it? We have literally two halves of preseason football to go with for evaluating him.