Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ice cold in Alex Runarsson

We made our third signing of the summer yesterday with the capture of Runar Alex Runarsson – now to be known as Alex Runarsson – from Dijon.

The signing of the £1.5 Icelandic international came just minutes before the man he’s replacing – Emi Martinez – saved a penalty on his debut for Aston Villa. I sense the ‘Look at what Emi did!’ thing is going run throughout this season, but how much attention you pay to that will be an individual thing. He wanted to go, we wanted £20m, sometimes that’s as much as there is to it.

Anyway, the arrival of Runarsson is interesting. First off, it absolutely and utterly cements Bernd Leno’s position as the number 1 keeper at the club. I know some people thought he was bad against West Ham, but I don’t really share that view. I loved Emi as much as the next guy, but let’s not pretend Leno hasn’t been consistently good for us. They are different in some ways though – Emi catches where Bernd sometimes punches – and maybe we need to get used to the German again.

I wrote last week about the role of the number 2 goalkeeper, and Runarsson will undoubtedly be that. He could make his debut in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday when we face Leicester, and bar any kind of injury his remit will be cup football, possibly the group stages of the Europa League, and that’s it. In the Premier League, and when games in knockout competitions become too important to take risks with, Leno will play.

His arrival at Arsenal is in a very significant way down to our goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana Pavon who worked with him some years ago at Danish club FC Nordsjaelland. Speaking to the official site yesterday, Runarsson said:

Our relationship, since we got to know each other four years ago, has been very good. We have always been in contact even though I was playing in France and he was coaching here in England.

The fact that he is here, it is very important to me that I know somebody here and I know that he knows my qualities, and what I need to improve and what I can bring to the club. I think we will be a very good match, for the second time in my career!

This is interesting to me, because he’s coming to us after a poor spell in France, where he lost his place at Dijon and his performances were underwhelming. Now, it’s not uncommon for a player to have poor time at one club – for all kinds of reasons – and then find their form again at a new one. The coaching might be better, the environment might suit them more, or it can just happen that they have a bad spell in their career. However, it’s something of a gamble on the part of the goalkeeping coach to advocate so strongly, which is what appears to have happened, for a signing.

On the one hand, it demonstrates a willingness to take responsibility, but if it goes wrong, you have to expect some fallout for that. Arteta has been very open about his willingness to place trust in the expertise of his staff, and that’s admirable in some ways, but if that is undermined by what turns out to be a bad decision it’s bound to have some impact – even if it might not be the end of the world. Cana has also been one of the main reasons why we have been pushing so hard for Brentford’s David Raya, a pursuit we still haven’t shelved either, so there’s another layer to all this.

As to what kind of a goalkeeper Runarsson is, he gives this assessment of himself:

I would say I’m a modern goalkeeper. It is one of my best attributes that I’m comfortable with my feet, I can play with my right and left foot, I am not afraid to play as a sweeper and I am good one against one.

What’s clear is that Mikel Arteta wants a goalkeeper who can play with the ball at his feet. Leno can do it (he finished with a 90%+ pass completion against West Ham, following up a 100% pass completion game on the open day against Fulham); Martinez could do it; and Runarsson points to this as one his best attributes. Raya, by the way, is extremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, hence our interest there.

Widening that out, by the way, Leno’s passing last season saw him make 606 accurate passes with a success rate of 88.3% (147 long passes with a success rate of 57.1%); Emi made 193 passes with a success rate of 83.9% (54 long passes with a success rate of 53.7%) ** Premier League only, info via WyScout. So, in that context there’s nothing much between them. And to compare with the new man, at Dijon, Runarsson’s total pass success rate was 86.1% with a long pass success rate at 62.3%

When you think back to the difficulties Petr Cech had when asked to do the same kind of thing under Unai Emery, you can see how the profile of the modern keeper has evolved and will continue to do so. I should point out that some of Cech’s difficulties came because of how awful the implementation of the style was under Emery. Players need to be confident in the patterns, the triangles, the positioning of their teammates to do it properly, and the former coach’s attempts to get Arsenal to play that way were, frankly, dreadful. So much so, he basically gave up after a few games, and I still think that’s why there’s a measure of nervousness among some fans when we knock it around at the back.

Obviously Covid-19 has been no good on any level, but perhaps the fact Arteta has been able to drill his team on the training ground, and they’ve been able to grow comfortable with his style without any kind of nervousness seeping through from the crowds has been a small benefit. Anyway, the new boy is here, we’ve spent just over 10% of what we brought in for Emi Martinez, and if that money goes towards bringing in the midfielder we all really want the club to sign, then I suspect that’s a deal most people would have sanctioned.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen already, we chat about the goalkeeping situation a bit on the Arsecast Extra this week, as well as issues like Alexandre Lacazette’s contract, Lucas Torreira’s Atletico Madrid links with regard to Thomas Partey, and lots more.

Listen/subscribe below, more from me here tomorrow.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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