David Raya: Did Mikel Arteta’s Gamble Pay Off?

When Arsenal decided to pursue the signing of Brentford’s star goalkeeper David Raya last summer, many eyebrows were raised by critics, who questioned Mikel Arteta’s decision.

In the eyes of many supporters and pundits, Aaron Ramsdale enjoyed a fairly successful 2022/23 season, having kept 14 clean sheets and producing numerous game-winning saves that kept Arsenal in the title chase with Manchester City.

Ramsdale continued to start for the Gunners at the start of the current campaign, with Arteta even saying that there was no first-choice goalkeeper, in his opinion.

“We have two great goalkeepers, just like we have two great left-Wingers, two great holding midfielders, two great strikers. There is no number one – not in any position.”

However, over time, Arteta started selecting Raya consistently to the point where he was the first-choice goalkeeper, which seemed like the plan from the beginning.

Despite some early shaky moments from Raya, the Spaniard grew into the role during the 2023/24 season, but has he substantiated Arteta’s bold decision?

Goalkeeping Upgrade or Miscalculation?

It is possible to measure a goalkeeper’s performance using the Post-Shot xG +/- metric, which has been extensively covered in previous articles.

When capturing Raya’s individual performance, we can see how it severely dipped early into his Arsenal career but has since gradually recovered. Although he has not yet returned to the extreme levels he produced during his Brentford days, there are clear signs of improvement.

Nevertheless, Arteta will hope he can reignite Raya’s form that earned him the move to north London.

Raya’s underperformance in the Premier League this season is visible when comparing him to other goalkeepers (who have played more than 1800 minutes) in the league using the PSxG metric, where Raya only ranks 13th.

Raya’s output of -2.3 (2023-24) is also significantly lower than last season’s 5.1 (2022-23), which bettered Ramsdale’s 2022-23 performance. It could be one factor Arteta considered when he decided to sign Raya, however, that faith has not yet been repaid the expected dividends.

In a more positive context, Raya comes out on top for goalkeepers that have intercepted the most percentage of crosses – a notable drawback of Ramsdale, which proved to be a vulnerability for Arsenal last campaign.

Raya’s superiority in his distribution is also reflected in the numbers, as he attempts more passes per game and achieves a higher completion rate than Ramsdale’s figures from last season.

Raya Arsenal’s Goalkeeper for the Future?

Aged 28, Raya will enjoy the prime years of his career at the Emirates, as Arteta continues to construct a world-class team that can consistently compete and win titles. Although the Spaniard has not seamlessly integrated into a high-pressure situation, he seems to have begun to settle, and winning the Golden Glove Award in his very first season will instill confidence in the Spaniard to carry forward into the next season.

The £30 million deal now looks like a steal for Arsenal, considering the calibre of the goalkeeper they have in their hands. Nevertheless, Raya will have to prove next season that he can be the reliable last line of defense for Arsenal, a title-challenging team.

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