With David Raya’s loan move to Arsenal from Brentford meaning Mikel Arteta has effectively two No 1 goalkeepers in the same squad, it’s fair to ask: how will it work?

Manchester United goalkeeping legend Peter Schmeichel was not a fan of the Raya transfer when news of it first emerged early this month.

🤔 Will David Raya’s signing create problems for Arsenal?

Peter Schmeichel thinks so 👇 #BBCFootball pic.twitter.com/4iZoBdRWC0

— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) August 9, 2023

“I absolutely do not get it,” Schmeichel said. “I cannot understand how a manager can come to the conclusion that it’s a great thing to have competition for the No 1 shirt.

“A goalkeeper’s position is very reactive… You’re now asking your goalkeeper to prove you’re better than the other one. It’s the one position on the pitch where you just want safety.”

“What you do is put a lot of insecurity into the two of them.”

But why shouldn’t the goalkeepers have competition — just like the players at every other position on the pitch?

Thing is, healthy competition between goalkeepers is good and productive. Unhealthy competition can create a complex dynamic. The standards required at the highest level push each one to be at their very best, but it can also drive a wedge between the players concerned.

When you have two goalkeepers of a high calibre competing with each other, it rarely ends well.

Petr Cech left Chelsea after 11 glittering seasons in the summer of 2015 just a year after heir apparent Thibaut Courtois was brought back from his long-term loan at Atletico Madrid, and later reflected he was “not happy at all” with the decision.



David Raya to Arsenal: A £3m loan move over four years in the making

When Real Madrid signed Keylor Navas in July 2014 to challenge Iker Casillas, the Spaniard held his starting position for most of the 2014-15 season, with Navas as the backup, but it was the Bernabeu legend who would leave to join Porto 12 months later.

Navas would similarly pay the price when Madrid bought Courtois five years ago, moving on to Paris Saint-Germain, and was also slowly forced out of the PSG side after Gianluigi Donnarumma swapped AC Milan for the French club in 2021. Navas ended up spending the second half of last season on loan at Nottingham Forest, helping them avoid relegation from the Premier League.

I had this scenario when my Swedish club at the time, Helsingborgs IF, recruited a new goalkeeper before the 2016 season — competing for the No 1 jersey that year was one of the most challenging experiences of my career.

I had been promoted to first-choice after Par Hansson had left in the off-season, with the club bringing in Tomer Chencinski. But, much like Raya and Aaron Ramsdale now, this new goalkeeper was a similar level and age to me, not a clear No 2 who might have been a more experienced player at the end of his career or someone much younger. I immediately began to question my position: if the coach believed in me, why would he bring in another goalkeeper with such a resume?

I understood the coach’s thinking. He wanted two goalkeepers who could push each other in training, with whoever proved the best being the one to start matches. He wanted us to remain on our toes. However, this approach had the complete opposite effect — on us two and on the team overall.

The uncertainty made each of us unsure about our standing in the squad. We found ourselves drifting in and out of confidence, leading to all kinds of inconsistent performances and mistakes that neither of us was accustomed to.

In training when I made a mistake, or even when I did something well, I wanted to look over to see what the manager’s reaction was. I wanted to know in real time what he thought. Did he really believe in me as the No 1? This is the insecurity Peter Schmeichel talked about.

I would analyse Tomer’s performance in training too, often convincing myself there was no way I’d be picked to play.

It became incredibly draining over the months that followed. Eventually it caught up to me and my form suffered, drastically. I had so much anxiety and stress. In the lowest possible ebb, I froze on the spot when conceding a late winner to Orebro early that season. I could see their playmaker charging towards me but when he shot, my mind could see what was happening but I could not react.

That was the moment I knew I was doomed.

At my most confident it never would have been a problem — I would have put my hand up and taken the blame — but the circumstances made me feel like a shell of my former self.

The next game, against Hammarby, was an absolute horror show. I was awful. We lost 5-1. It would become the first and only time in my career I was dropped. And, frankly, the manager was right.

I would eventually return to the starting line-up with 10 games left in the season and my form improved. The rest — both mental and physical — and the shock of being dropped helped me refocus and return to my best. However, it would turn out not to be enough and our team was relegated.

The locker room totally divided and — though I’m ashamed to admit it — us ’keepers very much played a role in it.

Goalkeepers need to be the glue in the dressing room, chatting to everyone, trying to help as many people as they can. You need to be the player no one ever questions; everyone knows that, regardless of what happens — even if you make a mistake — you will be fine. The role of the goalkeeper is to provide stability. You don’t want them wondering if they are going to lose their spot because of a mistake.

Outfield players have the luxury of being able to fit into different positions; if you are in form, you will play. In my experience, this is a rare occurrence for goalkeepers. There’s only one place per game up for grabs and, even if you are in form, it can sometimes be weeks or months before you get your chance. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Don’t forget, Ramsdale and Raya each have national team situations to think about, with a major tournament on the horizon. If either of them is sitting on the bench at Arsenal, it reduces their chances of being selected, by England and Spain respectively, for the European Championship next summer.



Arsenal’s goalkeeper dilemma: Would David Raya be an upgrade on Aaron Ramsdale?

If Raya comes in and gets his chance, plays well, and then still finds himself on the bench, he’s going to get upset. If Raya gets his chance, does well and keeps his position, it’s Ramsdale who has the problem. It’s very difficult to keep team spirit and camaraderie.

If I allowed a competitor to take my job due to poor form, I would feel sick to my stomach. In training, you silently want the other person to be sloppy — just enough so it’s clear you are better than him. On gameday, I sometimes secretly hoped the other goalkeeper would have a poor match because I knew that’s ultimately how I would get my chance. It pains me to admit it now, but deep down, I think it’s something most goalkeepers are familiar with.

I believe in being a good team-mate, in being respectful and professional, but that is where I drew the line. Some goalkeepers might be better people than me and disagree, but I’ve rarely been in a scenario where I felt true kinship with a guy I’ve been competing for a spot with.

There’s a fine line for coaches. You want someone who will challenge the No 1 and push them in training, but be just a little worse than them — so they can’t rest on their laurels but at the same time know their spot in the side is actually secure. The ultimate goal of any team is to have a backup goalkeeper who can push the No 1 but not upset the dynamic of the team.

Some sides have a league goalkeeper and another for cup matches, to try to maintain harmony. However, this is only a temporary fix, and not sustainable over longer periods — especially when you have two international-level goalkeepers: Raya isn’t coming from west London to north London to warm the bench.

It’s an incredibly harsh move by Arteta and will require delicate management.

It will be vital for Arsenal to have constant communication with each goalkeeper, to be upfront and honest in their assessment and on what is expected. Sure, one of them will still end up disappointed as only one can play, but I’ve found it’s better to hear something you don’t like than not hear anything. That way, you always know where you stand.

Bringing in Raya could drive up Ramsdale’s level, and vice-versa, but come next summer, the loser of this battle might well be keen to move on. Although Raya’s move is an initial loan, Brentford’s director of football Phil Giles has said “all parties (are) wanting to make this a permanent transfer as soon as practically possible”. So if Raya becomes the No 1, will Ramsdale want to stick around?

That type of ruthlessness may just be what Arteta believes he needs to take Arsenal to the next level and challenge champions Manchester City, but it’s also a big risk worth taking for a team who has only just found their identity after their title push last season.

(Photo: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)