18 August 2015

Ramsey reveals where I got it wrong...

After the Crystal Palace result, I, like many other keyboard-warriors gave considerable stick to Aaron Ramsey for his apparent inability or refusal to stay wide-right despite starting as the nominal right-wing in our 4-2-3-1. I even included a photo with snarkly caption mocking him for popping up on the left, further to the left at times, in fact, than either Özil or Alexis. Surely, this reflects Ramsey's new, me-first' attitude, spawned of his glorious 2013-14 campaign when he scored more goals than he'd scored his previous eight professional seasons. Gone, apparently, was the team-first attitude and sacrifice for which he'd become known. In its place, ostensibly had arisen a shoot-first, dodge-questions later gunslinger who would just as soon shoot from forty yards as pass to an open teammate twice as close to goal. According to Aaron, I have it all wrong. Wouldn't be the first time...

Ramsey, speaking after the match, explained:
[Playing on the right] was the manager’s decision, and he tweaked things around. He told me to try and get in between the lines, not stay outside, to come inside, and I thought I did that by getting into some dangerous positions. Some of the combination play was really good, and, on another day, we could’ve scored more.
Looking back on the match, he certainly seems to be onto something. The first 30 minutes or so produced some fantastic goal-scoring opportunities, and Ramsey was more often than not involved in the build-up.

Shocker.  Arsène, long lauded (or lambasted) for letting his players figure things out rather than micro-Mourinho-ing—sorry, managing—every last detail, was comfortable with Ramsey's approach to the match. In fact, according to Ramsey, Arsène encouraged it. It wasn't until Palace tweaked its formation to play with two defensive midfielder, shifting from a 4-5-1 to match our own 4-2-3-1, that Ramsey's role—and our overall effectiveness—suffered a slump.

However, we're here not to re-dissect the match as a whole but to re-examine Ramsey's role. If he had gone off the reservation by invading the centre of the pitch, surely, Arsène, Per, or others would have let him know. Behind him, after all, was the still-callow Héctor Bellerín, who would have to contend with Bolasie among others largely unassisted. Without Ramsey staying wide, keeping Bolasie honest, Bellerín would suffer. Neither of these dilemmas rose up. No one remonstrated with Ramsey to keep his heels on the touchline, and Bellerín showed that he could more than manage Bolasie or anyone else who popped up. Whether that's still true against the likes of Chelsea or Man City is an open question. It is worth noting that Bellerín still found time to get up the pitch and attack, earning an almost-assist on the second goal.

In other words, it worked on this day. Ramsey has it right when he says "on another day, we could've scored more." That's an accurate summary of the first 30 minutes or so; had we seen Alexis or Ramsey or Giroud finish just one or two more of the chances they had, we might be singing and shouting the virtues of Ramsey on the wing.

For myself, I still envision a Ramsey-Coquelin defensive midfield. After all, it was largely alongside Arteta that Ramsey rose from the ashes in 2013-14. If Coquelin and Ramsey can forge a similar partnership, we'd find room on the pitch for our most-dangerous players: Ramsey, Alexis, Walcott, and Özil. Salivate over that for a moment.

In the meantime, I humbly submit my apology to Aaron and Arsène for rushing so quickly to judgment.