12 December 2015

Ramsey's resurrection equals Villa's vivisection...

Who would have thought that injuries to Coquelin and Cazorla would turn out to be a blessing in disguise? Strange though it may be, our most-common complaints—who will play DM if Coq gets injured, and why is Ramsey playing on the wing—have been answered in the form of Ramsey restored to his preferred and most-productive position. Since his return to the middle, we've exploded for six goals in two matches after struggling to manufacture the same number in twice as many. That's not all down to Ramsey's return; then again, he has found a goal in two assists in those two previous matches. Maybe there's another resurrection for the Welsh Jesus waiting in the wings...

If you can't stop 'em, mug 'em...
However, it would be a mistake to attribute Ramsey's return to the middle to something as simple as the injury-crisis. Arsène, speaking of the move, put it in shrewder terms:
If you look at his expected goals when he is in a central position, it is among the best in the Premier League.
"Expected Goals" is a tricky term; it doesn't necessarily measure the number of goals a specific player will score (in this case, Ramsey) but the number of high-quality chances a squad will produce during a match. Looking back to Ramsey's 2013-14 season, it should come as little surprise that he might rank among the best in the Prem for generating expected goals. For as gilded as that season was for him, however, it became a sort of Sword of Damocles, as he pressed and pushed to replicate those feats, suffering under the weight of his own exploits.

Diminished by injury, Ramsey was forced to accept a reduced role in many ways, which seemed to exacerbate the pressures he faced. Forced to play wide in order to accomodate the successful pairing of Cazorla and Coquelin, Ramsey seemed to seize any glimpse at goal as a chance to let fly, which all too often ended with the ball ending up in the stands rather than in the back of the net. As with the early stages of his Arsenal career, Ramsey was trying too hard to be a hero ; this time through, though, he wasn't trying to replace Cesc Fàbregas—he was struggling to reprise himself.

And so we come full-circle. It was injuries that forced Arsène to play Ramsey in the defensive midfield in the 2012-13 season, leading up to that magical 2013-14 season, and it is injuries that have "forced" Arsène to restore Ramsey to that role. Instead of slotting him in and hoping it works, Arsène knows what he's getting.

For those with a nose for data, Ramsey is the only player in the squad to rank in the top three for key passes per game (1.7, third behind Özil and Cazorla), tackles (2, third behind Coquelin and Monreal), and total goals scored (2, third behind Giroud and Sanchez). These speak to the range that Ramsey offers, both bombing forward to create chances and pressing or tracking back to disrupt opponents.

For Aston Villa, it's the worst of both worlds. Their task is tall enough already, having suffered three consecutive losses to the Arsenal to the total tune of 12-0. Add in the fact that they've conceded eight goals in their last three outings, and the Villans seem ripe for evisceration. With Ramsey running amok endline to endline, their misery may know no end...