Is Aaron Ramsey the surprise new defensive midfielder Arsenal seek?
A few years back I wrote a blog suggesting that Mikel Arteta could be our new Claude Makelele and play deep pivot, holding midfielder, DM, call it what you will. At the time, the piece was seen as a bit ‘out there’ and not taken too seriously. It was written in June 2012 and in pre-season, ahead of the 2012/13 season, Wenger gave him the role.
My argument at the time was that the DM role, given that most teams weren’t playing a conventional second striker/no.10 in the Bergkamp/Zola role that the position was no longer about disruption and breaking up play and more one of anticipation and beginning our own play. I would argue that this conversion has largely been a huge success and if we are honest we only have to look at our results without Mikel there and they are worse.
However, despite his experienced football mind and accurate passing game, his legs, never the swiftest, are two years older. The ill-advised tactics, in my view at least, of outrageously attacking fullbacks has left this lack of pace from our current captain exposed. I should note we have curtailed the full backs better since November.
I have for some time advocated Morgan Schneiderlin as his long term successor; again last March this suggestion raised a few eye brows. Whilst most are now converted to the idea of the graceful Frenchman now, having not made a strong enough move in the summer it is hard to see him being allowed to leave this month as the Saints ride high and push for Europe.
Sign a new player or play an existing squad player as DM?
This being the case with Arteta out injured we are left with two fundamental choices – buy in January a player who is almost definitely going to be our first choice or make do from within the existing squad. (Third choice Kim K Cup Winner)
Concentrating on the second option, most will think rightly of Flamini, Coquelin and perhaps Chambers. Whilst I thought Le Coq was impressive for the most part at St Mary’s, it is hard to see him as the long term successor to Gilberto we have yet to find.
Flamini in 2007/08 had the shirt off the Brazilian and it was his to keep but he opted for a move to Milan and six years later he is absolutely NOT a solution. Chambers for me is a centre back long term and a good one so I would park that thought too.
An outside shout, and one that would not fill me with dread as much as it would have done in August, is to ask Nacho Monreal to try his luck and see if he could follow Manu Petit from left back to centre back to centre midfield.
For Roy Hodgson, Jack Wilshere is the main man for the deep playmaker role and he has starred there for England. Having seen the thinness of young Jack’s leg in photo’s yesterday, I cannot see him playing any significant role for Arsenal this season. It would appear that our options are limited and not likely to appease the fan base.
So here comes the new ‘out there’ suggestion for this season – could Aaron Ramsey be the solution we are seeking? The initial reaction to constraining a player who scored nearly 15 plus goals last season is likely to range from surprise to ridicule but here are a few considerations.
Arsenal’s playing style a key factor
Arsenal 2014/15 are not playing football on the break as we were in 2013/14; when Ramsey bursting into the box from midfield bore huge success. Arsenal this season with Sanchez and Welbeck are playing a far more pressing attacking style with more numbers forward and Ramsey’s late runs so timely last season have not been needed this season. And at times, it has left us open to the counter.
Combine this with a return to form and goals for Santi Cazorla, whose goals and assists Ramsey basically replaced in 2013/14 and the new consistency of Oxlade-Chamberlain and the conclusion may be a new role is required for the Welshman. The pressing style also over-emphasises the need for the deepest midfielder to be a swift athlete able to cover much ground in front of the back four.
Cast your minds back to Jan 2013 when Ramsey was struggling for form and was asked by Wenger to sit at DM versus West Ham, Brighton etc. He was superb and he inspired me at the time to write this piece. Here were his own thoughts at the time on Arsenal Player in a story in the Mail.
And with two victories from two matches as an anchorman, Ramsey now looks set to start Wednesday’s crunch clash with Liverpool.
‘I think I’ve played well in the last two games,’ he told Arsenal Player.
‘That’s pleasing for me and hopefully I can just keep myself in the team and carry on.
‘Hopefully, I get picked for the next game.
‘I had a meeting with the boss the other week and he explained to me what’s required for this role.
‘I think I’ve done that in the last couple of games and I feel good in myself.
Feeling good: Ramsey has been told by Wenger what he wants from him
‘I’ve been getting stuck in and winning the ball back, been involved a lot more and got a lot of touches of the ball, so hopefully I can continue the form I’m in at the moment.’
Ramsey insisted his new role did not prevent him attacking.
‘You always have to be wary of the hole you’re leaving behind you, but there are occasions when I can get into the box and one of the other midfielders sits,’ he said.
Since then of course, he has rarely had to fill in there but we know he can do the job and has all the attributes required and in addition has the pace the others candidates lack. Most will baulk at the very suggestion that Rambo should not be back in the team in an advanced midfield role but my counter question might be has Ramsey shown anywhere near the form that Santi has shown of late in this campaign?
I might also say do you not want Ozil back in at CAM in the near future? Cazorla himself has clearly laid down a marker to stay central both with his form and with his own quotes. The Spaniard has operated as one of the two deeper roles with some assurance of late and with a more disciplined use of the full backs is having Ramsey and Cazorla with Ozil ahead totally inconceivable?
Let’s look at the facts in favour of Ramsey anchoring instead of being more box to box – he tackles well, his shorter passing is miles better than his long range Hollywood balls and he has bags of energy and fitness to keep covering ground and colleagues. The flipside is that we might miss his goals but with Sanchez, Welbeck, Cazorla and Walcott, would we? He is an exceptional talent and we should find a role for him in the team. But could it be that the role is at DM, which would be perfect for the balance of the side?
Even if this is not forever as we know Santi is not getting any younger Aaron Ramsey for me has become less effective because the style of play has changed and this has impacted his form this term. If Arteta is out for a while longer and you all ignore your gut sentiment that Ramsey should be getting in the box as he last season ask yourself this one question?
Who would you prefer sitting at the base of an Arsenal midfield doing a job for the team? Flamini, Coquelin, Chambers or Aaron Ramsey?
It should never be about the individual and should always be about the team and what works best for Arsenal. Would Ramsey choose to step back into the anchor role right now? No, I am sure he wouldn’t. If it meant playing every week in a winning team with Santi, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud and Welbeck/Walcott carrying the assist and goal threat he might!
I am sure when Wenger asked Arteta to change his role in the summer of 2013, he was not overjoyed. But I wonder if two years later when he was named club captain if he has any regrets. Somehow, I doubt it.
Just a thought, really. But if we cannot buy the real deal in January, it could work in the short term.