- Arsenal wrestled their way back into the title race with a 3-1 win over Liverpool
- Pictures have emerged of one of Mikel Arteta’s stars looking unrecognisable
- IAN LADYMAN picks his top five Premier League centre backs of all time – It’s All Kicking Off podcast
Much credit was given to the quality of Arsenal’s attack but their defence has been the most impressive part of their campaign. No team has conceded fewer goals than the Gunners in the top-flight this term.
And they restricted the division’s second-best attack to an xG of just 0.37. Among Arsenal’s stingy back five was a crucial performer who looks completely unrecognisable compared to his early days in the game.
After starting out at local Catalonian club UE Cornelia, he made the unusual switch to then-Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers at the age of 16.
This Arsenal star spent a season on-loan with fifth-tier Southport during the 2014-15 campaign
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have the joint-best defensive record in the league and are considered by many to be its best defence overall
However, he was made to wait until the 2014-15 campaign, while on loan at fifth-tier Southport, to make his first senior appearances.
‘My story isn’t the typical footballer’s story,’ the shot stopper told The Guardian last year.
‘It’s the story of a boy who leaves his country at 16, alone, and fulfils his dreams: who ends up playing for his national team, in the Champions League, and for one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League and the world.’
After making 20 appearances for the club, he returned to Rovers where he continued to impress – still without his trademark beard and sporting a bigger frame than today.
In all, he turned out 98 times for Blackburn before securing a £3million move to an upwardly-mobile Brentford in 2019, looking to achieve promotion to the Premier League for the very first time.
That incredible rise happened just two years later following a 2-0 victory in the Championship Play-Off final against Swansea. The Spaniard would go to feature 24 times for the Bees in his first Premier League campaign.
The goalkeeper looks remarkably different in his younger days without his trademark beard
He made 20 appearances in all for the Conference League side as they finished up the season in 19th place
His fine displays also saw him make his debut for the national team in a 2-1 friendly win over Albania in March 2022.
Still continuing to standout not just with his goalkeeping abilities but his ball-playing qualities too, the 28-year-old earned a move to Mikel Arteta’s side last summer, unseating incumbent Aaron Ramsdale, to much furore.
Though, now as the Gunners sit just two points off the top of the table with the joint-best defensive record in the league, there are precious few dissenting voices to the introduction of David Raya.
Capped three times for Spain, Raya indeed charted an unfamiliar path to the top than many of his peers and his appearances has markedly changed since he first arrived on these shores over a decade ago.
‘The path I’ve been on helps you appreciate things and shows you can do it if you’re determined.’ He added to The Guardian.
David Raya has established himself as Arsenal’s No1 after coming in for Aaron Ramsdale last summer
‘Coming from way down to the highest point makes you humble, focused, not stop. I still haven’t reached my level. There is no ceiling; I want to believe I can always be better.’
Raya has established himself as Arsenal’s undisputed No1, having started 18 of the side’s last 19 league outings. His only absence came during the 1-0 win against his parent club Brentford in November.
The keeper has six clean sheets in the league to his name so far and has conceded on average a goal-per-game this term. A figure only bettered by Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker.