Perhaps the doubters should have listened to the Premier League’s most experienced first-choice goalkeeper. Three weeks after Arsenal had signed Aaron Ramsdale for an initial £24m that, whatever hindsight might suggest, made many eyes water they were offered an alternative viewpoint by Ben Foster. “The guy seriously impresses me every time he plays,” he said. “He’s got a little bit of that mentality where he doesn’t care. Nothing fazes him and nothing bothers him: he’s going to go on to be a serious monster in goal.”
Foster will hope Ramsdale has an increasingly rare off day when his Watford side visit the Emirates on Sunday but, whoever finishes on top, the mutual respect will be genuine. Ramsdale is a West Brom fan and, through his teens, was present to see Foster keep goal at the Hawthorns. He has spoken reverentially of the 38-year-old in the past and considered it a career milestone when, two years ago, the pair faced one another during his time at Bournemouth.
“I watched him for a long, long time,” he said after both keepers had achieved a clean sheet. “The way he plays, the speed he plays at and being able to kick off both feet, I know his game inside and out. There are definitely things you try to take out of his game and implement into mine.”
Ramsdale’s attention to detail is little surprise. One of the attributes that has delighted colleagues at Arsenal’s training ground since his arrival is his absorption in the sport: Ramsdale verges on the hyper-observant, watching games religiously and paying attention to minor points of a player’s routine, down to the off-field commitments expected on a match day, where other professionals might not. It is an attitude that has, in seven league appearances, transmitted on to the pitch: at a middling 6ft 2in he might not fill the goal with his stature but a vibrant personality lifts those around him and presents opponents with a fresh obstacle.
That was among the assets that seduced Mikel Arteta. One of the laziest barbs aimed at Ramsdale was that, in his two Premier League seasons, he had been relegated twice, with Bournemouth and Sheffield United. He missed only one game in those campaigns and perhaps it says something that, when Eddie Howe, Chris Wilder and Paul Heckingbottom tinkered in search of a formula for escaping the drop, the goalkeeping position remained unchanged. Maybe they saw what Arteta did: a preternatural ability to roll with the punches.
“I watched a lot of clips and moments after he conceded a goal, making a mistake or a difficult moment,” Arteta said on Friday. “And that’s one of the big reasons we made a decision to sign him, because he could cope with those.”
The logic was sound, if rarely heard. It can be taken as read that goalkeepers in the top two divisions are outstanding shot stoppers. The step up from competent to elite is made between the ears and Ramsdale’s imperviousness to disappointment, a condition that has afflicted Arsenal for too long, struck a chord.
“He’s made some really big saves for us lately,” Heckingbottom said in May when the Blades’ fate had long been sealed. “But perhaps even more so than that, it’s been the belief and single-mindedness he has shown to keep on going and show people what he’s made of. Because it would have been easier for him just to fold. He didn’t. And that takes something a little bit special in my book.”
In a revamped Arsenal defence that has shipped only four goals since he usurped Bernd Leno, Ramsdale is yet to encounter the negative scrutiny that accompanies regular concessions. The day will arrive when he makes a critical mistake but he has quickly amassed enough credit to fend off brickbats. Interaction with the fanbase has been a theme in his early months, from joining in with Leicester supporters’ barracking at goal-kicks last week to his increasingly familiar pumping-up of the Emirates crowd.
Ramsdale operates with his heart on his sleeve: there is something of the amateur player, and not in the pejorative sense, in such an uninhibited approach. Figures at Arsenal liken him to an old-school football character: ready with wit and a wisecrack, but businesslike when required. Jack Wilshere, whose influence as a non-contract training participant at London Colney has also been well received, is cut from a similar cloth.
“Connection brings unity and a different kind of vibration between fans and players,” said Arteta of Ramsdale’s ability to lift spirits. “Aaron is capable of transmitting that in a natural way. His competitiveness as well, on the pitch, brings the crowd to a different level, because of his desire to win.”
None of it would matter without technical accomplishment, but Ramsdale has excelled so far. Only Édouard Mendy has a higher save percentage in the Premier League in 2021-22; it is arguable that his performance at Leicester, jointly with the Chelsea goalkeeper’s display at Brentford, was the goalkeeping highlight of the season to date.
Distribution skills were a widely trailed reason for Arsenal’s decision to make their move and Ramsdale has broadened their range from the back: only Foster and his counterparts at Newcastle, Burnley and Everton have made a higher percentage of long passes.
Arsenal will expect to bring up three straight wins against Watford, whose early form under Claudio Ranieri has been unpredictable. Foster, who should make his 371st Premier League appearance, is the Hornets’ model of consistency. “It was great to share the pitch with him,” Ramsdale said in the wake of that meeting in 2019. Master and protégé would both agree they belong on the same stage.