Ramsdale, White & the £150m spine transforming Arsenal

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Nine games, seven wins, two draws and no defeats.

After the misery of August, Arsenal fans have had a lot to enjoy during the months of September and October.

When they kicked off against Norwich City on September 11, Mikel Arteta’s side were rock bottom of the Premier League having lost all three of their opening games without scoring a goal.

But now, ahead of Sunday’s clash with Watford, the Gunners sit sixth, having embarked on a seven-game unbeaten run in the league - amassing 17 points from a possible 21.

Add two further morale-boosting successes in the Carabao Cup into the mix and you can see why the mood around the Emirates Stadium has been completely transformed in the past couple of months.

“We are on a good run,” Mikel Arteta said after Saturday’s impressive 2-0 win at Leicester City. “Now we have to continue that because there are still a lot of things we have to improve.”

So what has changed at Arsenal? How has a team that conceded nine goals in their opening three league games, without scoring once themselves, suddenly managed to turn things around so dramatically?

The key has undoubtedly been the new-found spine that has been introduced since the summer transfer window closed.

Since the demolition at Manchester City, when Arsenal were crushed 5-0 on August 28, Arteta’s side has been given a completely new look.

Aaron Ramsdale has been brought into the team at the expense of Bernd Leno, and has started all seven of Arsenal’s league games since.

The £24 million ($32.6m) summer signing from Sheffield United has been a revelation in goal, and has still yet to taste defeat in an Arsenal shirt.

Ahead of him, Ben White and Gabriel have been paired together and formed an impressive partnership at centre-back, while Thomas Partey has returned to full fitness and started to show his best form in the heart of midfield once again.

And up front captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has got himself back amongst the goals, scoring four in his last seven.

For the first time in a long time, the Gunners have a strong spine that runs right down the middle of the pitch, and with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka starring in the wide positions, they are now reaping the results.

“We have really shown, in the recent weeks, that we can fight to hold onto a scoreline,” Saka said following last weekend’s success at the King Power Stadium, when Arsenal withstood a second half onslaught from Leicester to secure all three points.

“We can defend well. Last season we would maybe have conceded in this game, but we really dug deep.

“Of course, Aaron did amazing for us and saved us a few times, but credit to the defence as well because they are doing wonders for us. I think that is something we can be proud of.”

Since the transfer window closed and Ramsdale, White and Gabriel came into the side, Arsenal have conceded just four goals in seven league games.

They have kept four clean sheets during that time, with summer signing Takehiro Tomiyasu also playing a huge role having started every game at right-back following his deadline-day move from Bologna.

A defence that looked shambolic at times during the opening weeks of the season now looks solid.

Tomiyasu has been hugely impressive, while White and Gabriel’s partnership is getting stronger by the week. 

“I think they all have the qualities to complement each other and the connection between them is natural,” said Arteta, while discussing his two centre-backs. “They connect and they have the right qualities for what we are demanding of them to do. 

“But they have to show consistency. We are just in October, there are still eight months to play. In the long run we will see what we get, but so far I am really pleased with them.”

Arteta added: “We brought Ben because we believe that he can be extraordinary. He doesn’t have that much experience in the league still, so he is not mature in that sense, but he has already shown his qualities and what he can do. 

“Gabriel has been crucial. He came back again from a knee injury so he missed pre-season, but he came in a different way. He showed a different maturity, a different level of implication. 

“His lifestyle has improved a lot, his language has improved a lot. He has all the qualities to be a superb central defender. I’m really pleased with what he is doing.”

There were plenty of eyebrows raised when Arsenal opted to spend just shy of £75m ($102m) in the summer to bring in Ramsdale and White.

The latter’s £50m ($68m) price tag was viewed as excessive by many observers, despite his impressive performances for Brighton last season in the Premier League.

While the capture of Ramsdale generated even more debate, with plenty questioning why Arsenal would want to spend £24m on a goalkeeper who had just suffered two successive relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United.

“I'm not sure what Arsenal's transfer strategy is,” Gary Neville said back in August. “It seems a bit over the place. Maybe there is one, but it's not clear. Sometimes you can see a left-field signing and think you can see where it comes from, but there's quite a few of them at Arsenal.”

Ramsdale has been quick to silence his doubters, though.

The 23-year-old has been sensational during the early stages of his Arsenal career and has already firmly established himself as a fan favourite.

Ramsdale has now made eight appearances for his new club and he has still to taste defeat. In that time, he has faced 28 shots and saved 24 of them (85.7 per cent). Only Edouard Mendy has a higher save percentage (85.7%) during that same period.

The Gunners keeper has now kept five clean sheets, too, and none were more impressive than the one he produced at Leicester on Saturday.

He made eight saves during the 2-0 win, including one to deny James Maddison which Peter Schmeichel described as the "best save I’ve seen for years".

“Aaron has settled in a group that is very welcoming,” said Arteta. “It has young energy and humble senior players that accommodate you straight away. 

“We invest money in talent and people we believe can be great for the future of the club. We made our decision based on that and Aaron has had some really encouraging performances.

“He needs to continue to do that, because in football you have to play 50 games for 20 years, and this is only the start.”

In Ramsdale, Gabriel, White and Partey, Arsenal have a new spine that has been built during the past two summer transfer windows at a cost of around £145m ($197.5m).

So often accused of having a soft under-belly, the Gunners now appear to have a solid base that has the potential to be the bedrock of the team for the foreseeable future.

“The potential is there, because of the qualities they have individually,” Arteta agreed. “They can complement each other with those qualities. 

“Obviously with the age of the group, if we manage them well and they are willing to sustain that, then they have a really bright future.”

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The key for Arsenal now will be to try and maintain the consistency they have shown during the past two months, something that will not be easy with such a new and relatively inexperienced team.

All six summer signings, including Nuno Tavares, Sambi Lokonga and Martin Odegaard, ended Saturday’s win at Leicester on the pitch, with White the oldest of the lot at just 24.

A transfer policy that was widely questioned, is now starting to bear fruit.

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