What Should Arsenal be Looking for in a New Goalkeeper?
By Allan Riley
Please God, not Aaron Ramsdale.
That seems to be the consensus amongst Arsenal fans, amid links to a potential move to north London for the Sheffield United shot-stopper. Mikel Arteta’s side have been quoted at £40 million for the former Bournemouth 'keeper, which seems to have put the club off the transfer.
The saga has attracted derision from opposition fans and made Arsenal fans put their head in their hands at the baffling nature of the deal, and the fact that the club has reportedly put three bids in for Ramsdale. Aside from Ramsdale, the club have said to have been looking at West Brom’s Sam Johnstone, Watford’s Daniel Bachmann, Newcastle’s Freddie Woodman and Andre Onana from Dutch side Ajax.
Onana in particular has been a signing Arsenal fans have been desperate to see materialise. A doping ban means Onana will be unable to play until November. He'd also be unavailable in January due to the African Cup of Nations. However, a deal for Ghana’s number one could be struck for as little as £7 million.
Arteta and Technical Director Edu seem intent on signing a home-grown goalkeeper to help bolster their side’s quota, an area in which Arsenal are struggling at the moment. The club is looking to offload several homegrown players in Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson.
Of course, Arsenal already have Bernd Leno on their books. Yes, while Leno is an excellent shot-stopper on his day, exceeding his post-shot expected goals numbers in all three of his seasons at the club, he has been on the wane recently, with the issue exacerbated by a few high-profile mistakes. Off the basis of his performance against Chelsea in the Mind Series, that doesn’t look like changing this campaign.
So what profiles should Arsenal be looking for in a goalkeeper?
Being a good shot-stopper is not enough in the modern-day. Arteta’s system is reliant on progression out of the back, with the goalkeeper often initiating these patterns of play. As such, an Arsenal goalkeeper must be confident with the ball at his feet. They need to be able to distribute the ball to a high level and have the initiative to start attacks.
The number of defensive actions outside the penalty area is a good indicator of how good a goalkeeper is at being a sweeper. For instance, Leno averaged 0.63 #OPAs/90 in 20/21, his lowest since moving to North London. In contrast, of the aforementioned keepers, Ramsdale averages 0.58, Johnstone averages 0.70. This data was not recorded for Onana, Woodman or Bachmann.
Looking at these numbers, coupled with cross actions per 90, we can see out of the Premier League keepers mentioned who is the best sweeper. Ramsdale averages just under one cross action and Leno just over one. This shows that neither are particularly suited to this style of play.
Additionally, Arteta could do with a goalkeeper who is commanding, good aerially, but most importantly: confident. This is where Woodman shines. His assured presence for Swansea was a key factor in their journey to the 2021 Championship play-off final. While he wasn’t particularly busy due to Steve Cooper being able to organise his charges excellently, Woodman can keep his concentration and constantly pepper his defenders with instructions, making him well-suited to a possession oriented side.
Should Arsenal look to go for a foreign signing, it is hard to look past Onana of Ajax. While his 21/22 campaign will be heavily disrupted, it is almost worth it. The Ghanian has world-class reflexes and an excellent post-shot xG rate of +0.27 in European Competition. Not to mention his superb ball distribution skills.
Looking at the above diagram, Onana loves to pass down the left-hand side or go straight down the middle of the pitch. He can stretch the play on the flanks or cause havoc in the middle, both of which Arsenal need in a goalkeeper. Unlike Leno, his choice of pass puts him under minimal pressure and he is calm in high-pressure situations. His cross claiming on corners and positioning are also noteworthy assets within his gajme.
Of course, these were areas that Emiliano Martinez, formerly of Arsenal, excels in at Aston Villa. While everyone is a genius with the gift of hindsight, it is obvious that the Gunners made a mistake selling the Argentinian, especially for the low fee of £17 million that the Villains paid.
Looking at these areas and several different metrics portrays that Arsenal need to buy an upgrade on Bernd Leno. Arteta needs a goalkeeper who is confident, comfortable on the ball, and dominant aerially. In this regard, Onana would be an excellent choice, especially for the cut-price fee he is going for.
Should Arsenal look to go down the homegrown route (which is what they arguably should do), it is hard to look past Woodman, who is still yet to get a proper chance at parent club Newcastle. For the likely minimal fee, he'd be the best homegrown option. Nonetheless, the chance to sign Onana just appears too large of an open goal for Edu, Arteta and their colleagues to miss.
All stats courtesy of FBref.com.