Karl Hein signing a new contract at Arsenal is excellent news, but the question now is what’s next for the club’s crop of academy goalkeepers.
Friday morning brought good news from the Arsenal academy, with the official club channels confirming that Karl Hein has signed a new long-term contract with the Gunners.
This is an important extension, and it’s one we’ve been nervously waiting on. The goalkeeper’s deal was set to expire at the end of the year, and he recently underlined his impressive potential with a clean sheet against Wales for Estonia.
Thankfully, that’s led to Arsenal finalising his contract, rather than other clubs coming in to turn his head. But it now raises the question about what’s next for him and the rest of the club’s academy goalkeeping options.
With Runar Alex Runarsson going out on loan, you’d imagine that Bernd Leno, Aaron Ramsdale, Arthur Okonkwo, and Karl Hein are the four goalkeepers with a realistic chance of making the first-team squad on matchday.
Leno and Ramsdale are obviously nailed on, but you’d expect a good battle between Okonkwo and Hein for the third spot. Arsenal tend to take a third goalkeeper to almost all of their matches even if they don’t have space to name one on the bench.
The problem is getting both of them minutes. Even if one of them travels with the squad to every single game, they’re hardly going to spend any time out on the pitch.
The u23s have plenty of fixtures available, and one option would be to rotate between the goalkeepers. Hein could start for the u23s while Okonkwo joins the first-team squad one week, and Okonkwo could start for the u23s with Hein joining the first team the next.
The problem with that is the pair would block off Arsenal’s younger goalkeepers – Hubert Graczyk and Ovie Ejeheri. Those two also need games in the u23s, and they’d arguably benefit more from the experience than Okonkwo and Hein.
That’s not to mention James Hillson, whose path to the squad seems to be completely blocked at the moment. His only recent appearance was to make a penalty save in pre-season against Ebbsfleet United.
Arsenal are left with a rather unbalanced goalkeeping setup, where they only have two experienced first-team options, but they arguably have too many goalkeepers in the academy.
That’s not all bad. Hein and Okonkwo will get plenty of matchday experience, they’ll be involved in first-team training, they’ll be available if Mikel Arteta ever wants or needs to call on them. They just won’t have much consistency in their minutes at any level.
The obvious solution is for one or two goalkeepers to go out on loan in January. It was more difficult for Hein to find a move over the summer after his contract entered its final year, but his new deal opens up possibilities for the winter window.
For the time being, Hein, Okonkwo, Graczyk, Ejeheri, and Hillson will all just have to settle for whatever minutes they can get.