Raya is clearly now Arsenal No. 1. Time for Ramsdale to go?

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Arteta: Arsenal have more levels to come (0:59)

Mikel Arteta promises that Arsenal have more to come after topping the Premier League table this week. (0:59)

The key to deciphering whether goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has been harshly treated by Arsenal is not solely in the decision to sign David Raya itself but the level of communication around it.

Sympathy is in significant supply for Ramsdale, who by common consensus did little wrong in his first two years at the club before the Gunners moved to bring in Raya in the summer on an initial loan from Brentford ahead of a £27 million transfer. Sources have told ESPN that the deal structure was primarily due to accounting reasons at Arsenal's end; loaning Raya is not a sign of uncertainty of signing him permanently, but effectively a deferral of a payment they expect to make.

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And so the problem for Ramsdale is very real. The young goalkeeper who overcame scepticism from within the Arsenal fanbase to become a cult hero faces a fresh fight to salvage his career, just a few months on from playing all 38 games as the Gunners went the closest they have in years to winning the Premier League title. The fall has been dramatic, especially given he only signed a new contract in May and this is surely the point at which any assessment of the situation must begin.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has every right to change his goalkeeper if he believes an upgrade is available. Arsenal wanted Raya prior to signing Ramsdale. The club's goalkeeping coach, Iñaki Caña, worked with Raya at Brentford and recommended him. The pair share the same agent, Jaume Munell. And it became increasingly clear that Raya would leave Brentford for the right fee this summer given he had one year left on his old contract and wanted to move. Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were among the interested clubs.

So were Arsenal honest with Ramsdale when he signed a contract extension in May? It is a question his father, Nick, pondered in a recent edition of the "Highbury Squad" podcast. "This is purely me -- why would you extend a goalkeeper or any player's contract and then two or three months later ... ?" he said.

Well, quite. Ramsdale's previous deal ran to 2025 with an option for a further year. There was no urgent time pressure to renew. His new deal runs to 2026 with a 12-month option, so the primary change was to his salary. Sources told told ESPN that Ramsdale roughly doubled his money with the new deal. So did he take the cash hoping it would offset his disappointment at knowing there would be fresh competition for his place, or was he in the dark about Arsenal's plans?

"We did not have a clue," Nick Ramsdale continued. "I did not have a clue. Our family did not have a clue. Aaron did not have a clue that he was not going to carry on playing. All of a sudden he has not been playing."

However, one source contradicts this view, telling ESPN that the club had indicated to Ramsdale's camp that there was a possibility they would sign a new goalkeeper. Matt Turner, Ramsdale's understudy, wanted to play regularly to retain his spot with the United States national team and Arsenal had never extinguished the flame they carried for Raya. It is unclear at this stage what the truth really is. Only Ramsdale himself can clear up these conflicting messages in a future interview, but for the time being he has to focus on taking the few opportunities he gets with more aplomb than he has shown to date.

You cannot force composure. This was evidenced in Ramsdale's outing at Brentford last weekend, a game in which he only played because Raya was ineligible as per the terms of his loan. A calamitous first half in which he almost gifted Brentford a goal as he froze in possession and somehow threw the ball into the ground when trying to distribute gave way to a touch more assurance thereafter and a clean sheet. But it was nowhere near enough to escape the conclusion he is struggling to cope with the demotion he faces.

Arteta simply wants something different from his goalkeeper. Raya is deemed superior with the ball at his feet, able to build out from the back and start attacks with more variety than Ramsdale. Raya is a more conservative presence between the posts. Ramsdale, by his own admission, is a bundle of energy who struggles to concentrate for 90 minutes, deliberately engaging with the crowd to sharpen his focus. He is an affable, open and honest character whose candid interviews are to his credit. But he is also rough around the edges and it could be argued that jars somewhat with Arteta's meticulous, precise nature.

The Arsenal boss certainly could have handled it better. In his first prematch news conference after dropping Ramsdale for Raya, Arteta was asked about Ramsdale's reaction in training, the sort of deliberately open question designed to get a manager talking about a sensitive subject.

"Honestly, I don't want to talk about the response of every single player in the squad whether they play or not," Arteta said. It was a churlish reply and one he subsequently corrected later that week, recognising he had to communicate his thinking more effectively.

Arteta has also previously suggested he wished he had the courage to substitute his goalkeeper during matches. The 41-year-old has not specified on which occasions this thought came to him but it is reasonable to assume Ramsdale was involved at least once, suggesting a doubt over what he can do has existed for some time.

More recently, Arteta played down talk of a January exit for Ramsdale by insisting last month that "we will always try to do our best to help them but this is a team sport that needs 24 players that have to fulfil a role -- and the role that you have in August, it might be very different to the one you have in March."

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Ramsdale helps his dad steal an early Christmas present

Aaron Ramsdale partners with his dad to take home a red bauble from Arsenal's tree as early Christmas present.

For his part, Ramsdale could have been better advised in shielding his father from giving interviews to fan channels, or being caught on camera indulging in games such as pilfering baubles from the Christmas tree located just inside the players' entrance at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal are in a strong position to rebuff offers for Ramsdale given his contract situation, and they are unlikely to sanction a midseason exit without having a replacement No. 2 in their squad. It remains to be seen whether he pushes to leave in January but things are only likely to be bleaker in the meantime unless Raya suffers an injury.

Ramsdale could feature in Arsenal's final Champions League fixture of the year at PSV Eindhoven in 11 days' time, with his team already confirmed as Group B winners. He will probably not play in a game Arsenal actually care about until the FA Cup third round on Jan. 6, although that competition is third in the club's priorities and he has seemingly not yet been told he will be the club's first-choice for cup competitions.

Sources have told ESPN that multiple Premier League clubs have shown an interest in Ramsdale. Wolverhampton Wanderers are keen on taking him on loan, a prospect which may appeal given Ramsdale has been warned by England boss Gareth Southgate that he must be playing more to secure a spot in his Euro 2024 squad. Chelsea are also monitoring the situation.

Something, surely, has to give because another six months of this isn't ideal for anyone.