I was tempted to title this blog “Arsenal in for cut-price England Euro star” or “Arsenal chase ex-Manchester United keeper”.
Both of those headlines would have got me loads of clicks and earned me about 50p.
But for years I have criticised those blogs that are there are as the “most read Arsenal story” who hide players names behind things like “6’4” stopper” and other bollocks.
They are usually the blogs that make very little contribution to the Arsenal conversation, and spend there days regurgitating transfer speculation for a few quid.
So Arsenal have been heavily linked with West Brom’s Sam Johnstone.
The 28-year-old keeper was a called up to England’s Euro 2020 squad.
Being linked to a recent relegated keeper is fairly uninspiring. But there is plenty of logic in there.
With Bernd Leno set to stay next season, a deal for André Onana is unlikely (Onana’s contract is set to expire next summer so our interest might be revisited ).
So as it stands Leno is first choice, and recently promoted Arthur Okonkwo will be 3rd choice. What the plans are for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson is unknown.
So Arsenal need a second choice goal keeper.
In recent weeks we have been linked to Sheffield United’s Aaron Ramsdale – who was also part of Gareth Southgate’s squad. But it looks like Sheffield United’s asking price – £30million – is a little steep for Arsenal.
And Arsenal would be crazy to spend that one someone who would be 2nd choice keeper considering our financial restraints following Covid and finishing 8th. There are more important areas of the team that need addressing.
So why has Edu and his team landed on Johnstone?
A 2nd choice keeper will likely see very little game time – in David Ospina’s last 3 seasons in red and white he played just 11 games.
With a lack of European football, our 2nd choice keeper will probably only play in the League Cup and potentially the FA Cup. He could then play as few as 2 games.
So Arsenal would be crazy taking up a non-home grown playing spot with someone who will play so little.
Being home grown was one reason why Emi Martinez got promoted following the departure of Petr Cech and Ospina, and ended up getting his chance.
Sam Johnstone is basically England’s 4th best keeper (behind Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, and Henderson).
If we are looking for home grown, there is probably not anyone else available for cheap.
Ramsdale was clearly ahead of Johnstone on Edu’s wish list. But £30million for a back up keeper for a team with no Europe is silly money.
Johnstone meanwhile could be available for a fraction of that.
In 2018, Johnstone signed for WBA for £6.5million, agreeing a 4-year deal. That deal is due to expire at the end of this season.
A situation Arsenal have found themselves in a few times in recent years, WBA will have a choice of letting Johnstone got for cheap, or lose him for nothing at the end of next season.
Taking into account the impact Covid and relegation will have on their finances, they probably could not afford to lose him for nothing.
So this could open the door for a move to Arsenal.
WBA recently turned down a £10million bid from West Ham – who have moved on to Alphonso Areola. They are reportedly demanding £20million.
Even at £20million, Johnstone is already cheaper than Ramsdale. But Arsenal would expect to drive the price down further.
Arsenal may well be willing to do business at £12-15million. Or lower with a player perhaps going in the other direction on loan (maybe Runarsson or one of the U23 lads).
Better Than Ramsdale?
Johnstone was in Southgate’s original Euros squad whilst Ramsdale was a late call up to replace the injured Henderson.
Premier League Ready
Okonkwo showed against Hibs that is important to have someone with experience as 2nd choice.
Johnstone played 37 of 38 games for WBA last season, and did not miss a Championship game for them in the two previous.
Prior to joining WBA he was Aston Villa’s first choice in the Championship playing 45 out of 46 games in 2017/18.
Over 280 senior games to his name, he would be more than capable to step up n Leno’s absence.
If we signed Johnstone for £12million, there will be plenty who will say “getting Johnstone for £12million when Onana is available for £10 is bad business”. But worse business would be having a foreign keeper as 2nd choice with no European football next season.
Johnstone might be unwilling to be a number 2, which would probably sacrifice his chances with England in Qatar – but there are not many Premier League clubs looking for a number one.
His best hope would be joining someone like Arsenal and then, when we are back in Europe, getting 15-20 cup games in during a season.
Johnstone would be a good deal.