For Aaron Ramsdale it has been a breathless journey, with little time to take stock, but every now and then there is a tap on the shoulder – a reminder – something to offer perspective and clarity.
The 23-year-old describes the past month or so as the best he could have wished for, and no wonder. He has ousted Bernd Leno as the Arsenal first choice – much quicker than even he could have imagined after his £24m move from Sheffield United on 20 August – and his performances have helped the club restore stability after a turbulent start to the season.
Ramsdale has conceded only one goal in four Premier League games, a run in which Arsenal have collected 10 points, and it has led Gareth Southgate to recall him for England’s World Cup qualifiers away against Andorra on Saturday and at home to Hungary on Tuesday. Ramsdale, who was an unused member of the Euro 2020 squad, was not selected for the September internationals. He hopes to make his debut against Andorra.
It was certainly a moment for Ramsdale when Arsenal played AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup on 22 September – he had spent the second half of the 2018-19 season on loan at the League One club from Bournemouth – and there was another one for him at St George’s Park on Wednesday. Watching England train were Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall, the former Bournemouth manager and his assistant, who had sent Ramsdale to Wimbledon mainly out of exasperation.
Notoriously, Ramsdale had overslept to miss the Bournemouth team bus to the League Cup quarter-final at Chelsea in December 2018 – a game for which he had been named as a substitute. Ramsdale has credited the Wimbledon loan as his “penny-dropping moment” and he has barely looked back since.
It was significant that during the loan Southgate invited him to train with the England squad and then there were the two solid seasons as a Premier League No 1 – the first with Bournemouth, the second with Sheffield United. Even though both clubs were relegated, Ramsdale’s star was not diminished. Sheffield United paid £18.5m for him, while the Arsenal fee could reach £30m with add-ons.
“I don’t think I’ve realised yet the journey that I’ve had,” Ramsdale says. “I had a little snippet when we played Wimbledon and I got to see my old goalie coach and it brought back all the good memories of that period – where I have come from.
“I spoke to Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall on Wednesday and the major thing for me was well documented – I missed the bus one time by sleeping in and that’s why I went to Wimbledon. That was the catalyst.”
Ramsdale makes the point that he is in the England squad purely on merit for the first time rather than because some of his rivals are injured. He was called up for the Euros after Dean Henderson’s withdrawal, while Nick Pope was already out. Both are now fit but Southgate has preferred Ramsdale and Sam Johnstone behind the first choice, Jordan Pickford.
Ramsdale has Pickford in his sights. “I have the self-belief that, yes, I could hold down the position [of England No 1],” he says. “First and foremost, I have to get in the team and that’s one of my goals at the moment. I’m just trying to learn and take it step by step but over time that’s one of my aspirations.”
Ramsdale’s self-belief shines through. He says it is the product of his rejection by Bolton at 15 – “The only way not to get that feeling again was to believe in myself” – and he has been intent on bringing personality and leadership to an Arsenal team that have not always been synonymous with those qualities.
“When I came in, I got told to be myself,” Ramsdale says. “My character is to be loud, be a leader and show passion. I also knew that I might have to shake things up in a positive way and my own way. I think it is well documented that they were missing leaders but I don’t think we’ve all turned into leaders all of a sudden. The team that is playing at the moment is just full of confidence and working well together. We’re all leaders in our own way.”
Ramsdale says: “The bigger the pressure, the more I thrive,” and so he would appear to be in the right place at Arsenal – a club weighed down by the quest to restore former glories.
“You can sense it as soon as you walk through the doors that the club aren’t happy where they are,” Ramsdale says. “We want European football. It might have to be the Europa League and then the Champions League but we want to get back there. You understand the pressures that brings but it’s an enjoyable challenge.
“At the training ground, you see the history. The players that have played here with their unique numbers – as we have with England. You’ve got the Invincibles on the walls everywhere. It’s now our time to put some new history there.”