David Raya's penalty heroics end debate over Arsenal No.1 spot

Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya jumps to stop the ball during their UEFA Champions League last 16 second leg football match against FC Porto

Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya jumps to stop the ball during their UEFA Champions League last 16 second leg football match against FC Porto at the Emirates Stadium in London on Tuesday. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Published Mar 13, 2024


David Raya's penalty heroics against Porto sent Arsenal through to the Champions League quarter-finals — but also settled the debate over who is the club's first-choice goalkeeper.

The Spain stopper dived full length to tip Wendell's spot kick onto his left-hand post and also saved from Galeno as Arsenal progressed to the last eight 4-2 on spot-kicks on Tuesday.

The dramatic shootout under the lights at the Emirates came with the teams locked at 1-1 on aggregate after extra time of a scrappy, tense encounter.

Arsenal forward Leandro Trossard scored in the 41st minute to level the tie after Porto had won the first leg in Portugal with a last-gasp goal.

But neither side could find a winner as a Champions League knockout match went to penalties for the first time in eight years.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta raised eyebrows when he brought Raya to the club on a loan deal from Brentford last August to compete with established number one Aaron Ramsdale.

There was a feeling in some quarters that there was no problem to fix — with England international Ramsdale a firm favourite among fans.

Former England goalkeeper Ben Foster branded the decision to bring in Raya "pathetic", pointing out that Ramsdale was battling with Jordan Pickford for the country's number one jersey.

Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville said he was not a fan of competition for goalkeepers.

Shot stopper

But Arteta had clearly seen something that prompted him to agree the season-long loan deal, with an option to make the move permanent for a reported £27 million ($34.5 million).

Raya caught the Arsenal manager's eye for his 77 percent save ratio — the highest in the Premier League in the 2022/23 season — and his ability with the ball at his feet, which is a key factor in the club's possession-based game.

Arteta was initially non-committal over who would be his first-choice goalkeeper, stressing the advantages of competition.

But while Ramsdale, 25, started the season between the sticks, once he was replaced by Raya there was little doubt over the pecking order.

The England man has played just two Premier League games since early September, both against Brentford, whom Raya is not allowed to face because they are his parent club.

It has not all been plain sailing for the 28-year-old, who took time to settle and made a number of costly errors, including against Chelsea and Newcastle.

But Arteta, whose free-scoring team top the Premier League after eight straight wins, stuck to his guns as even Ramsdale's father questioned his handling of the situation.

Arteta was asked in the afterglow of the win on Tuesday whether Raya's performance had proved his worth, but he said he had never doubted his goalkeeper.

"I don't have to see him today," he said. "I was very convinced that was going to be the case.

"You see in the first few days here and what he had to go through and how he did it with that composure.

"You look at his body language, and the position that he takes, he doesn't get very affected and that's a key quality for a goalkeeper."

Raya himself admitted it was a "great feeling" to help Arsenal reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2010 — ending a miserable run of seven straight defeats at the last-16 stage.

"We've been working a lot on penalties this year because on a night like this you need to be good and the hard work has paid off. It's a great night," he told TNT Sports.

"I should have saved three, but I'm over the moon to save two and get through to the quarter-finals.

"It means everything, You play football for these kind of nights. Over the moon and I'm going to celebrate and enjoy the night."