WWhen Arsenal returned to training on Tuesday, their manager had help ready. Mikel Arteta's bizarre motivational methods made him famous, but it was simpler. Where the class approach to the weekend game usually yielded clips of improvement points, supplemented by reminders of what they did well, this time the tone was entirely positive. The team eased their gloom by leaving Emirates two days early,Brighton comprehensively resolved any remaining title claims, and even Arteta later had difficulty performing his usual hype-man act. Now he sensed that a dose of perspective was needed.
"We did a different style of meeting, just remembering how far we had come," says Aaron Ramsdale, whose frustration with Deniz Undav's lobbying for the Seagulls' second goal was obvious. “He put the board on how we can still win the most with oneArsenalteams in the Premier League and how disappointing it is at the moment, but how progressive this season has been, how positive we can be."
Sitting by the pond on a hot day at Arsenal's training ground, Ramsdale can also appreciate the sunny side. The fruits of their labor are already rich: a return to the Champions League and only a third top-two finish in the last 19 years. Additional perks came along the Ramsdale road. He signed a new contract on Thursday and it was a recognition after his second appearance for the club that he had become an integral part of their revival.
“This season has been amazing, especially the jump from last year,” he says. “But I understood my abilities and it was just about trying to unlock them and make them more consistent. I'm still learning and trying to hone some skills, but the good thing for me is that I regularly help the team when they ask for it more often than I do."
In a way, Ramsdale epitomizes this Arsenal team. He turned 25 on the day of the Brighton defeat - "I don't want to play again on my birthday" - and is still young for his position. There is vitality in his game, as far as the goalkeeper can show it: a relativity that convinced many doubters upon his arrival from Sheffield United. Overall, he has developed well, although like his teammates, he still has some sharp edges, such as the error he refers to more than once that gave Southampton the advantagea disastrous 3-3 draw last month.
"While it started off negatively online, as soon as I stepped onto the pitch and put on an Arsenal shirt at West Brom for the first time, I received my full support and have always been grateful for that," he says. "I'm back in the Southampton game where I made my mistake and they were chanting my name and trying to get me back on track."
Because Ramsdale is back and forth with those behind it, friend or foe, it is part of the game. In February, a Spurs fan was disqualified for four years after kicking him in the back in a north London derby, but when legally run, he lives off the interaction. He speaks approvingly of the atmosphere at Anfield, a place he remembers since April. "When you go out in the second half you get applauded by the Kop and 30 seconds later you get hit so at the end of the game they slap you and show you respect. It's how I like it.
“I should be able to have fun while playing and that [my behavior] never really, ever goes away. It's more about: if you're going to give it to me, just know that if we score or you don't win, I'll celebrate in front of you, just like you would give me something if I made a mistake."
Ramsdale deserved the applause at Anfield with two excellent saves in the late hours that secured a point for Arsenal. But their giving up a 2–0 lead kicked off an endgame, albeit a relatively minor one, which ultimately made their title hopes fanciful. Anyone would have kicked themselves in the head for losing an eight-point lead despite having played one game more than Manchester City, but their greatest crime was not perfection. Discussions about bottle work quickly spilled out: knowing the progress they've made, does this annoy Ramsdale and his teammates?
“That's when it comes from certain people who don't necessarily have knowledge or experience. I also think it's very hard to say that with a team [City] that won it in five of the last six years, they're on an 11-win streak and potentially a treble. So we also have to be realistic.
“I think this 'bottling' narrative is the easy way out. It's just a quick, cheap narrative from some people who haven't really delved into the stories of what we've achieved. Some people say that and forget it, other teams have had the same experience as us. Let them worry about it, let them have their views and people who listen to them. We are disappointed but also extremely proud of ourselves."
He explains that the effort of competing for the top spot is hard to compare with the relegation battles with Bournemouth and Blades, both of which failed and contributed to the skepticism that greeted his move to north London. “The pressure of a relegation fight is much worse than a title fight. Now there will be a new pressure as I am expected to go again next year and try to keep it.
"But it's more fun when you're at the top of the league, trying to play with ease, with a smile. When you're down, it's really hard to have that attitude because sometimes you worry about what people think, "He shouldn't be so happy because we're down." So for me the pressure at the bottom is so much worse because who doesn't want to be at the top? Who doesn't want to be in the league?
These experiences have deeply impacted people's lives and helped shape the player Arsenal were so keen to sign. "One hundred percent," he says. "I've learned things on the descents that I'll never learn again. If I hadn't lived it, I probably wouldn't have known how to deal with disappointment, with things off the pitch: if you lose a game, how you should react.
"You have to have a life, you have to be able to separate football from home life. And that for me was due to my disappointment with relegation. If you were to ask me, "Would I change any of this?" No, I wouldn't change it. Of course I would change the clubs that got relegated, but would I change the game for those clubs and being relegated? I wouldn't do it.
Domestic existence with fiancée Georgina and their dog Blue is a refuge for Ramsdale. He has learned to switch off, block out outside noise, and enjoy the things that matter. "People always say you can't do things if you've lost a match," he says. "Honestly, after my first two years in the Premier League, if I had followed this advice, I would have just been sitting alone in a dark room at home because it was difficult."
Golf, family time and a drink with friends keep him in perspective; explains that the allure of nightclubs is long gone. Ramsdale is now looking for stability and thus further development at Arsenal. This is his sixth club, including on loan, and he is looking to sign enough new deals to put down roots for a decade
"That's the goal. I don't want to move anymore. As a footballer, it's very difficult to stay in one place for a long time, try to create a home where you can have a family. I don't want to move anymore, I want to see my football here. I want be the mainstay of this football club and do exceptional things, win trophies and see what this team can do.