29 September 2015

Ramsey set to rampage against Olympiacos...

First, learned that we had lost Coquelin to an injury (and yes, he's back in training). Then it was Flamini, fresh off his heroics against Spurs, coming up lame against Leicester. His replacement, Arteta, finished the match only to come up lame. Just like that, we have no proper defensive midfielders any more, and even Cazorla is looking a bit leggy, not to mention longer in the tooth. To whom do we turn to plug the gap? We face a must-win situation already in the group-stage, and with a testy clash against Man U five days later, can we risk sending on Coquelin? Nah. Not when we have Rambo, chomping at the bit to play through the middle after weeks in exile on the wing.

Ramsey scored the third in Arsenal's 3-1 win over Olympiacos in 2012.
We all know that Ramsey's best and preferred position is in that box-to-box role; it's the one that saw him explode in 2013-14 to the tune of 16 goals in 34 appearances. While he's regressed a bit, that's due just as much to nagging injuries as it is to competition for a position. The decline of Arteta (and, to a lesser extent, Flamini) has forced Arsène to explore other options. Eventually, we should see a Coquelin-Ramsey duo, but Coquelin's current status suggests that he may be rested for the clash with Man U. In the meantime, Ramsey has had to ply his trade on the right wing. Even if his nominal position belies his actual play on the pitch, the role does not suit his strengths or his mindset. Injury woes could then thrust him back to his most-vital role.

Without Arteta, Flamini, or, presumably Coquelin, we may have little choice other than to slot Ramsey back in. When your Plan B consists of playing one of your best midfielders in his preferred positions, that can't be all bad. It's been abundantly clear that Ramsey is less effective and less engaged on the right even if he does have license to roam. Restoring him to the defensive midfield, even if only for this fixture, should rejuvenate him by giving him a chance to do what he does best. While it's true that Olympiacos have bossed the Greek Super League to this point, they haven't faced anyone in the top ten.

In other words, we should see and seize a chance at experimentation and the tried-and-true. Playing Ramsey in the box-to-box role has been tried, tested, and verified. With him in the middle, there's still room on the pitch for Alexis, Özil, Walcott, and Giroud. However, the experimentation side of things is still dangling precipitously. Do we risk a Ramsey-Cazorla duo? Neither is accustomed to or accomplished at shielding the back four. Here is where I do go out on a limb, albeit one I proposed in the lead-in to the Leicester match: Glen Kamara.

Yes, he's young (19), but he's bigger than Cazorla (1.83m to 1.65) and much more physical and tenacious. He's being groomed as a defensive midfielder and did earn a call-up to the first team when we faced Galatasaray in 2014. That's a far-cry from being passing his trial by fire, but it's at least a taste. With a stolid back-line of Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, and Bellerín behind him, Kamara would have the support he'd need (paradoxically) to shield that back-four, preserving Coquelin for Sunday in the process. A Kamara-Ramsey pivot could also blend youth with experience.

As to the squad as a whole, the lads have to feel a hunger mixed with confidence. We lost to at Stamford Bridge thanks in large part to Mike Dean's malfeasance (confirmed by the FA's retrosactive three-match ban on Costa and "rescindance" of Gabriel's) and have gone on to score seven goals in two successive matches. Rather than lurching and limping from one result to another, hoping that we find an own-goal rather than offer one, we go into Tuesday's clash knowing what's at stake and what we're capable of.

I hope I have it at least half-right when I call for Ramsey to start in the defensive midfield. If there's room for Kamara alongside him, so much the better—just as long as we win.