Aaron Ramsdale doesn’t hide. He doesn’t give in either. The goalkeeper arrived at Arsenal in the summer to a warm welcome from those who believed in his talent but also a certain amount of scepticism from those who didn’t know him or who looked only at his record of successive relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United.
Aaron was unmoved, though – he was determined to prove himself to himself and to those who know him best. It’s fair to say he’s doing a great job of that so far, and his determination echoes the mood among the whole squad. So now seems like a fitting time for him to discuss his move to Arsenal, his own form, the team’s progress and why his passion for the game – and this club – is so strong.
Could you have imagined when you were relegated last season that by Christmas you would have established yourself in the Arsenal team and would have been receiving so much praise for your standard of goalkeeping?
Not really. I always knew it would come at some point – I did believe that deep down – but obviously the start I’ve had in the team combined with the run that we’ve been on has definitely helped. You can see the sort of confidence and enthusiasm I’m playing with, and everyone loves playing with confidence.
There were some eyebrows raised when you signed for Arsenal but you’ve answered the critics, haven’t you?
Well, obviously there were people saying certain things but I wasn’t listening to it because they weren’t the ones paying the money for me, they weren’t the ones wanting me to come and play for Arsenal and they weren’t the ones who were going to pick me to play for Arsenal. I was more bothered about what the boss wanted from me, what he wanted to get out of me and what my team-mates wanted from me as well. So I’ve answered the critics for now but I’d like to be judged over two, three, four years, not just a few games.
Would you say you’ve exceeded expectations since you arrived in north London?
I don’t think the people who really know me would say that I’ve exceeded expectations because they believe I can do more and go even further, but maybe those who don’t know me have been a bit shocked by how I’ve done. But the people I’ve worked with before, from the messages I’ve received and the conversations we’ve had, are telling me I can still do better.
Your long passes into midfield have caught the eye as well. Is that something you’ve always worked on?
It’s something I enjoy doing – I played a few at Sheffield United and it’s something I did for England through the age groups when I was younger. At Sheffield United we had a different style of football and you have to adapt. I’ve come here and we want to play out from the back so I get quite a lot of control over how we do that and it’s good because I get to express myself that way.
You’re treating us to some goal celebrations as well – most recently the Thierry Henry knee slide…
I know. I didn’t know if he was at the game but I thought the big man should get a little mention. It’s happened a few times but must have not been picked up, and this time it was. It looks like I’ve scored a 30-yard screamer! But I think the day I stop celebrating goals like that is the day I should retire, because my love for football would have changed.
You like a bit of banter, don’t you? And the cupped ear celebration…
We had two tough games last season against Southampton with Sheffield United and one of their players made a comment after one of the games so that was a little, “Well, there you are,” back to him. I enjoyed the win at Leicester as well and it helps that I have a really strong bond with the away supporters. It really does lift you up a few feet when you’re playing and they’re constantly singing about you. I’ve had a good relationship with the fans at every club I’ve played for and I guess one of the reasons is my passion, my enthusiasm when we score. I really do connect with them because when I’m playing for the football club I end up supporting the football club, so I want nothing more than Arsenal to win, whether I’m playing or not. Then the Everton game was funny because their fans were singing for Jordan Pickford and the away fans were singing back at them for me – you’d have thought we were the only two players on the pitch!
How impressed are you with Mikel Arteta’s project and how much belief do you have in this young Arsenal side that you find yourself in?
I’m really looking forward to seeing how we do with this project and this team. On average we’re the youngest team in this league so it’s probably not surprising that we’ve had games where we’ve been a little less consistent, and as players we have to break away from that. We have to work ourselves to do the right things to continue being consistent. But seeing where we can go from here is definitely going to be exciting.
Do you feel we still need a big win against a big team to really help us kick on?
Yes, you could say that, but we’re also realistic about where we’re at right now – we know we’re not challenging for the league but we know what we’ve got to do, and apart from Everton our defeats recently have been against the teams near the top of the table. We want to beat everyone and beating West Ham to go fourth was a bit of a statement, but there’s plenty more football to come from us.
Ben White and Gabriel are forming quite a partnership. Does that give you confidence playing behind them?
Yeah, I enjoy working with them every day and playing with them every weekend. They both love defending, love making tackles and blocking shots so it’s always easier for me when that happens because I have less to do. It’s a weird dynamic between them because Gabriel’s learning English but somehow they have really good communication on the pitch, and there’s a good dynamic between the three of us as well.
How hard was it coming back from such a difficult start to the season?
It was hard but the team is good and we’re showing a lot of character at the moment. We’re not giving in or hiding behind any challenge and that’s a credit to the staff and ourselves for the work we’re putting in.
Do the critics motivate the players as a group?
I think we used the start of the season as fuel and it gave us the determination to hit back. We went on a good run, then we had a little blip but we don’t let it affect us.
How much did you learn from your previous experiences with Bournemouth and Sheffield United?
A hell of a lot – I don’t think I actually realised how much I did learn. They were two experiences that were invaluable for me and it’s something I have over a lot of players my age. Obviously, relegation is not the greatest feeling in football but I did learn a lot about myself.
And how did you feel when Arsenal came in for you?
I was excited and I knew it was something I wanted to happen. I was told from day one it would be a challenge and that it might take six months or a year to get into the team. It took three weeks but I knew it would be tough, and Bernd and I push each other in training so I know that if I’m not on it he’ll be there to take the shirt back off me.
Did you feel under pressure moving to a big club like Arsenal?
No pressure, I just took it in my stride really. It is a big club but I don’t really think about the pressures from outside – I listen to my coach and my team-mates, and I don’t really feel the pressure.
And how did it feel to make your England debut?
It was a very special night and it meant a lot of my hard work from the age of seven paid off just for that moment. A lot of my family got to come over, which made it even more special, and it gave me a taste of international football. Now I want more caps. But I genuinely didn’t think it would happen that soon, at that camp – I thought maybe March would be when I might get a game. When Gareth told me I smiled, then thought maybe I shouldn’t, and he said, “It’s alright, you can smile!”
On Instagram recently you wrote, “I love this club, I love this team.” is it fair to say you’re enjoying life here?
That sums it up pretty well. I’m loving my football and the love I’m getting from my teammates and the fans is amazing. The fans are really getting behind us and I think they’re seeing improvements every week. And I think the team is great because there’s a good dynamic of younger and older players, lads who just want to work harder and get better, and someone like Laca who’s one of the senior players but is there on the training pitch early every day, wanting to work and wanting to learn. When we come in the dressing room it’s mayhem at the moment with restrictions coming back in, but we’re doing our best to keep ourselves happy and entertained, and these lads are great.
And are all the players enjoying the Saka and Smith Rowe song?
We’ve asked if we can get it on at the stadium when we win – that would be rocking. But those two are sensational at the moment. If we can keep them both fit and help them by not putting too much pressure on their shoulders they’ll be flying. But that song definitely gets the team bus rocking after the game.