Even when you take into account the fickle nature of football fans, the turnaround in opinion surrounding Aaron Ramsdale since first being associated with Arsenal has been nothing short of remarkable.
Last summer the club spent £24 million, with a potential £6 million more in add-ons, to acquire the services of relegated Sheffield United’s goalkeeper. Many fans and pundits, including me, were surprised by the pursuit and suggested transfer fee, but the purchase is proving to be a wise investment.
On paper, targeting a 23-year-old keeper with over 115 senior career appearances, who has represented England at all levels from the under-18s, and can boast winning player of the year in each of his last three seasons – all at different clubs – makes ample sense.
However, the consensus among supporters was of Ramsdale not being at the level required to play for Arsenal. The focus was centred around his relegation from the Premier League in each of his last two seasons, shipping over 60 goals in both campaigns.
A goalkeeper’s primary responsibility is to save shots. As fans, we tend to evaluate goalies based on the number of saves they make versus the number of goals they allow.
Keepers who frequently stand out by making lots of saves, very often do so because they play for teams that allow a lot of shots. Clean sheets are more common for goalkeepers who play behind a solid defence, but they’re not necessarily a measure of competence.
Expected Goals on Target (xGOT) removes these external factors by focusing solely on the shot quality rather than the opportunity (xG). This allows us to measure shot-stopping ability by using the difference between the goals conceded and the xGOT of the chances faced. A number one who allows less goals than their overall xGOT, indicates that they’re better than the average.
Aaron Ramsdale faced 61.3 xGOT at Bournemouth from 177 shots on target in 2019-20 and conceded 60 non-penalty goals. The following year at Sheffield United he faced 56.3 xGOT from 209 shots on target, conceding 57 non-penalty goals. Nothing collectively to suggest his shot-stopping was out of the ordinary.
Note: You can click on the images for the ultra HQ option (in a new window)
This seasons’ numbers paint a different picture however, as shown above.
The inconsistencies you would expect in a young keeper, shown in his recent wobbles in form are present. However, his outstanding performance away at Leicester, where he made 8 saves, preventing over 2 goals according to xGOT, combined with his overall good form, have resulted in him shutting out 3 goals less than expected.
Applying the metric across the division, Ramsdale ranks 3rd, and when you consider his age, he’s in a league of his own. Prior to this season, the youngsters’ save percentage had never gone above 71%. It currently stands at 80% exemplifying the improvement he’s making as he matures.
And of course, shot-stopping isn’t the only quality the modern-day goalkeeper needs in their locker. A criticism often levelled at Bernd Leno was his unwillingness to leave his line as the below visualisation demonstrates.
The selected goalkeepers above include some of the division’s finest, as well as Leno using data from season 20-21, and bottom-ranked David de Gea to add context.
While Leno’s average action distance is greater than Ramsdale’s, it’s merely the result of his inactivity in claiming crosses. Arsenal’s current number one ranks 8th (from 22 goalkeepers, minimum 900 minutes played) in generating the most actions off his line when calculated using deep entries against – a proxy designed to demonstrate how busy the goalie’s area is when considering the number of actions performed.
His visual above depicts a keeper who is dominant in his box, on his line, and at intercepting crosses (ranking 5th with 9.9% of crosses stopped).
These are traits demonstrative of mobility and bravery that enable him to command his penalty area, and relieve pressure from his defence. Zero goals conceded from set-pieces this season is no small coincidence.
Yet despite all of the qualities described so far, it’s his distribution that has left the biggest impression. The line-breaking passes, the clips to the wings, and the drilled dropkicks into space – arrowed deep within the opponents’ half, have shown a side to Ramsdale’s game that was previously unseen.
Playing out from the back has become the foundation of Arsenal’s style under Mikel Arteta, and the Englishman’s inclusion has been crucial in the improvements they’ve made in that area this season.
His long-distance kicking accuracy (passes over 36.5 metres) has improved year on year – from 30.4% at Bournemouth, 33.8% at Sheffield United and currently stands at 34.8%.
However, it’s his confidence in possession and willingness to take risks in initiating the attack that distinguishes him – his ability to break the lines and spot teammates by directing passes through the midfield has resulted in 22 passes being found in the opposition 3rd (ranking 6th).
Ramsdale’s importance in distribution and build-up play was never more evident than in Saturday’s win at Villa Park, in which he was unable to play due to injury. Leno’s distribution had long been an issue, as we were reminded with a lack of accuracy, despite his otherwise strong performance.
And so to summarise – at 23 years old, Aaron Ramsdale is not the finished product. As we saw recently against Liverpool, there will be further bumps in the road. While not all development is linear, he’s progressing at a steady rate and will save his team more than he will let them down.
His impressive 12 clean sheets are backed-up by underlying statistics, and have already surpassed any Arsenal keeper within the last six campaigns, with 10 games remaining.
In just seven months, the young Englishman has gone from transfer-rumour zero to red and white cult hero, and perfectly embodies Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, who continue to prove their doubters wrong.
Follow me on Twitter @jonollington
Fantastic analysis, thanks very much.
Shows that he is a top keeper at a young age, so hopefully keeps that going. Clean sheet stat is great, though Gabriel, White, Tomi and Kieran (plus Partey) are great to have in front of him. No goals conceded from corners is incredible.
A few more clean sheets and no goals from corners for the whole season would be wonderful. Well done to Edu/Arteta for buying him.
Hopefully we can finish this season as the ‘Intangibles’! no goals from corners over a season has to be a record?
And interesting to see Fabianski and Martinez so far down the list, with especially Martinez seen by many as a mistake to let him go.
Yeah, good spot. Szczesny starts for Juve, Ospina has played at a high level for years for several clubs, and Fabianski and Martinez are fixtures at EPL clubs. Leno is a quality keeper. We’ve had a lot of fine GKs, but if Ramsdale fulfills his early promise he will be the best of that very good bunch. With all the excitement surrounding our fantastic young attack, it’s easy to overlook how Arteta/Edu have laid the foundation for a truly imposing young defensive corps. Saliba will improve the depth at CB. Partey controls the danger area in front of the defensive… Read more »
Was thinking the same about Emi. We essentially paid a net £10m let’s say [sold Emi for £20m and paid £30m for Ramsdale]. Based on the above, we are about 6.5 goals better off [+3.3 versus -3.1] than if we had Emi in goal. Imagine where in the table we might be if we had shipped 6-7 more goals so far this this season. Also, Jose Sa is very good. Until I read this, I assumed Wolves were stingy because they have a good defense. Now I think their defense is still decent but Sa is just amazing. Imagine where… Read more »
Sá looks even better once you’ve hopped over to Transfermarkt to find out how much Wolves paid for him…
England number 1 within foreseeable future.
I was one of those who was baffled by the signing at the time not cos of his quality but more the fee and the thought he’d be a backup for at least a season or 2 but boy was I wrong. Genuinely has been in my opinion one of the top 3 GKs this season and for his age will only get better!
Trust the process!
In all seriousness, I’d like to see him play it short from goal kicks a bit more. It comes straight back if we go long because Giroud left about 4 years ago…
I loved Giroud, but the movement we’re getting from our front players has opened things up for those long balls from the back, especially the early ones. Gotta mix it up anyway; can’t be too predictable, at least until we’re as good as City playing out from the back.
Given we brought in Runnarson because his mate said he was ‘alright’, I was pretty concerned about blowing good money on a relegation fodder goalie.
How wrong I was. Great saves, box domination, pitch leadership and long passing. Not perfect, but who is*, and only going to get better with maturity.
I was saying on here the previous two seasons Leno was just ok and not close to being a great GK, with Leno we were settling for average and I was readily slammed for it. This article perfectly sums up what we were lacking with Leno compared to an exceptionally impressive young goalie. This really highlights ramsdale’s IQ for the game of football… He understands the role of GK perfectly, has the skills to back it up and the confidence to execute it. Leno is behind him in all those things and it’s why he’s behind him on the piercing… Read more »
Leno just needs to get some more piercings (earrings perhaps?) and he’ll advance up that order.
He’s gotta get more creative… Ear piercings are sooooo 1990s
Wasn’t aware there was a team order for piercings. What sort of criteria are used to establish the piercing order? The world of football analytics never ceases to amaze, first measuring shot quality and now piercing order.
I honestly cannot understand the down votes. What you have said is perfectly true. I too used to get slated for stating Leno was not good enough for a top club. I was furious that we sold Martinez, but more than compensated by bringing in Ramsdale.
Maybe there would be fewer down votes if people stuck to saying what they thought, without trying to show how they were right all along.
A different George…the hero of Arseblog [as always]…
Maybe when those views are made they could be considered by other without people being personally slandered…but you’d never do that would you now ol’ chap
I thrive off the downvotes… throw them on the pile and writhe around in ’em
A fantastic comparison of stats. Thank you, Jon!
Looking at his progression, it is scary to think how good he could become. England’s number 1 by a country mile.
When a goalie has played in successive relegated teams, but the fans rate him as their best player, it has to mean something. As a result of playing behind poor defences, Ramsdale has probably gained as much experience as most keepers 4-5 years older! When the talk was still about Arsenal buying him, someone did a YouTube video which showed him at his best and worst. The conclusion was that some of the best bits involved outrageous and brave goalkeeping, timing runs off his line to perfection. The worst bits were when he should have stayed back. The poster felt… Read more »
Leno came in to replace Cech because he was better playing it out short. He had such a haphazard shitshow in front of him that he lost all his ability to do that. He was well and truly mustafied. If he stayed he could benefit from a better setup in front and be number 2 and keep Ramsdale on his toes. It’s amazing how football style and tactics make certain players obsolete so quickly.
Urgh, remember we trying to play from the back with the likes of Socrates, Xhaka, Bellerin, Kolasinac… At least one of those was worse than Leno with the ball on their feet.
Ramsdale is an Arsenal legend in the making.
I think that a part of his character that is not present in this analysis is his very expressionistic behaviour. He is very much an extrovert on the pitch doing so much to engage energy into his team (and himself). That is a huge difference to Leno. This is not to say that extrovert pr definition is better that being introvert, but in a team that is very much a bunch of quiet, nice guys I really see Ramsdale as taking a huge repsonsability in leading the team. By being very expressive and infuse energy to the whole quad and… Read more »