How to restore Arsenal’s width with out dropping Cazorla or Ramsey

If Wenger won't chose one or the other in central midfield?
If Wenger won’t chose one or the other in central midfield?

It was hugely frustrated on Sunday to see Ramsey start on the right of midfield for the 4th successive game. It worked against Liverpool perhaps as much due to the element of surprise and it has not truly worked since. I have no issue with Ramsey as a player and at times last season and occasionally this he has been imperious. I do however have an issue with him wide right whether in a 4141 or a 4231 because I hate the way it makes us so narrow. We already have a free spirit with licence to roam in Sanchez on the left so having a player on the right who is also forever cutting in makes our attacking play entirely predictable and easier to defend against.

Frustrating on the right

Now this may not be an issue playing against a disorganised or porous defence. A defence where gaps periodically appear can be exploited by our precision passers but a back line such as Chelsea’s will just stand resolute and organised. I can only imagine the grins on the faces of Maureen, Cahill and Terry when they saw the Arsenal team sheet. Such is their confidence in defending what’s in front of them they and particularly Azpilicueta would have been delighted to see Ramsey and not Welbeck or Walcott lining up on the right. Without an Arsenal player willing to try and beat their full backs they would only have been concerned about Bellerin and the overlap, which I think occurred once in the 90th minute.

Laughing at the ease of defending against a narrow midfield

Cahill and Terry are both superb defenders facing away from the own goal but not as young as they once were, particularly the racist so getting behind the fullbacks and whipping in crosses is any team’s best chance to beat the champions elect. My frustration at seeing Ramsey and Bellerin exchange intricate passes out wide only to turn the ball back to Cazorala or Ozil, was only made worse by seeing one of the best dribblers in Europe continually dribble inwards and never on the outside of Ivanovic. Had he done it 2/3 times in the first half the Serbian right-back would have been booked and wary for the rest of the match.

Wenger has lost faith in Walcott which I understand and have come to accept but it was only a month ago that playing wide right Welbeck destroyed Lithuania with pace and power, consistently attacking their right back. Now you will also say Lithuania are not Chelsea and I would agree but we are talking still about a right footed left back who simply loves and is massively relieved, I suspect seeing the opposing player cut inside rather than attack his outside.

I guess I have no real issue with this set up against a big team away from home but we were at home and still with an outside shot at the title. At the very least we have the chance, as the last 10 minutes showed when we did bring on Welbeck, then Walcott to send a message out to our rivals. If we set up this way at old Trafford I will respect the decision but if we do so at Hull I will be very disappointed. Indeed if we play Ramsey wide right at Wembley even Kieran Richardson one of the weakest left backs in the Premier League will be having a rueful smile in the tunnel. I hope that by then Oxlade-Chamber lain is fit as I suspect only that might nudge Wenger into making the decision he seems very reluctant to make.

Pace and the willingness to take on his fullback

The decision I think most Gunners want him to make even if they make not agree on the outcome. Yes the ‘Decision that shall not be named,’ that we all know he has to make. Coquelin will play and Ozil will play I assume most would agree, although not all. This leaves one central midfield position that currently if we ignore Wilshere and Rosicky is being competed for by Ramsey and Cazorla. If we want the balance I believe we need Ramsey should not play on the right and Ox or Welbeck should. However there is an alternative that has yet to be explored and may be worth trying at Hull.

I think we all agree that Ramsey was our best player last season and arguably Cazorla has been this season, certainly as a central player. I think Ramsey is droppable personally and I think this season Santi is not but I also happen to feel that Wenger simply will not drop the Welshman. This being the case the combination not really tried as yet is to revert Ramsey to the double pivot where he enjoyed so much success last season and move Santi back out the left where he played most of last term.

Before you pick me up on it I will be the first to say I have not been a fan of Santi out wide in the past. This however was not so much a criticism of his wing play but more a warranted concern at his appetite, ability and discipline for the defensive aspects of the role. These were crucial then and let him down but that was then and this is now. Cazorla this season has been superb defensively and developed a new dimension to his game whilst playing centrally. Is there any reason why this new skill set cannot be unutilised to good effect on the left flank?

Left foot delivery or right it’s all the same to Santi

If Santi was therefore moved to the left midfield/wing berth this would allow Alexis is move to the right and on to his natural foot. He has said he likes to play on the left and to cut in but this will not always work against the best defences as we saw on Sunday. Of course as senior professionals the 2 could switch flanks during the game but I would like to see Sanchez beat his left back for pace and cut the ball back or whip a ball across the six yard line from the right and Cazorla beat his with skill and quick feet.

This is quite a revision in my own thinking but faced with Wenger’s obvious current desire to keep Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey in the team this seems a more balanced way to do so. If however he does wish to leave Cazorla in the new deeper central playmaker role then I would sooner see Ox or Welbeck on the right. Sometimes it is not about picking the best 11 players but about the shape and balances of the team, particularly against the better sides. Ramsey can be one hell of a player as he has proved but he has not consistently proved it again this season and Santi therefore edges the role alongside Coquelin for me if that is the straight choice.

Moving the new tougher Cazorla with his natural two-footedness and new found box to box toughness may just be the solution to Wenger’s quandary, albeit a self imposed one. Hull away would seem to be a perfect match to look at this subtle rotation of the same favoured resources and kit may restore what for me is much needed natural width so glaringly missing against Burnley, Reading and Chelsea.

I have in mind a follow up piece on midfield rotation that I considered including today but the articles was in depth enough and a long enough read on its own so until next time…..

Thanks for taking the time.

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  1. Well thought piece, as it always is the case on your site Dave.
    I agree Ramsey’s best position is one of the two pivots,with licence to make those late runs into the opposition box. But Wenger now prefers Cazorla alongside Coquelin as our most defensive midfielders and this was more evident against Monaco away when we substituted Coq out, it was Cazorla who was our deepest lying midfielder. Similarly this last match against Chelsea, after Coq was off, it was Cazorla who played the deepest MF. Unless Ox is back, it will be Ramsey who would be playing out wide on the right. But be good to see Welbeck there against inferior oppositions.

  2. I think it’s hightime Walcott left the club., he seems 2 be either lacking in confidence or is past his prime. Sterling or Abumeyang wud make good replacements. We need width to test opposition defenses properly. Welbz too should remain a winger.., I don’t see him having a future as a top 9.

  3. I’m sorry I disagree. I’ve watched every Arsenal game this season be it at the Emirates, or on tv. And I can’t say I’ve seen Ramsey reach anywhere near the heights he reached last season. He’s only been out wide for the last 4 games and while this makes him pretty ineffective, he hasn’t performed too well in his usual central role either. I think he tries far too hard to impress with “hollywood” passes and flicks which more often than not concede possession. There is no denying his hunger and energy and that is one thing I always praise him for. But if you watch him for 90 mins…what does he actually do? There are certain games during a Premier League season where I would use Ramsey centrally for his goal threat but he hasn’t got the footballing brain to play against the bigger sides for me. I’d much rather have a fully fit Jack Wilshere in there centrally alongside Coquelin.
    I think Arsenals best XI with the current squad is as follows:
    Bellerin/Debuchy Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
    Ozil Wilshere
    Ox/Walcott/Welbeck Giroud Sanchez

    Additionally…if we want to challenge for the title next season we need to sign Petr Cech, Mats Hummels, Morgan Schneiderlin/Lars Bender and a top class striker which is difficult to do it seems. Potentially Higuain?

    1. I think you meed to read it again mate. I too would leave Ramsey out but Wenger has continually shown that he won’t. This suggestion is to make the most of a frustrating situation and restore our width.

  4. Interesting post goonerdave! I think Ramsey on the right has seemingly created an imbalance in our attacking play, which seems to have dropped off in the last few games. For me, it’s a similar problem when Ox or Welbeck have been deployed there also. Walcott as an option is much more direct but is generally poor at dribbling and tracking back. Personally I would prefer to see Ozil deployed there and play a similar role to what Alexis does on the left, with Bellerin or Debuchy providing the width.

    That would allow a midfield trio of Ramsey, one of Cazorla/Rosicky/Diaby and one of Wilshere/Coquelin/Arteta/Flamini to be deployed in the centre of midfield all positioned relatively deep and protecting the back four.

    1. Interesting mate. Although many Gunners seem to deplore the idea of Ozil anywhere other than at CAM

  5. Dave, I wholeheartedly agree with this piece. Was scratching my head when I saw Ramsey on the right vs Chelsea. Think this also had an impact on Giroud’s game.

  6. I understand your points mate. I just don’t think it should be a discussion we should be having. Ramsey shouldn’t be playing wide right and if every Arsenal fan can see that why can’t Wenger?
    I think a huge problem Wenger has is his extreme loyalty to players. It is a good to be loyal but not when it affects the balance of the team. It almost seems like he’s playing Ramsey because he’s worried he’ll get upset. This also reflects on his late and in my opinion bad substitutions. Why wait until 75/80 mins in every game? Eg against Chelsea, he takes off Coquelin which is understandable in some respects as it shows intent to want to win the game. But then takes Giroud off?! What is Walcott going to do in 10 mins?! So frustrating mate.

  7. Seems people are afraid to criticise Ramsey .Any player deserve its critics and praise on merit.
    To me Ramsey other than bounds of hunger and energy there seems little else.Bring him as a substitute at best otherwise is not merited to be within the 11 starters.Wellbeck should have been starter in my book and Giroud would have been more effective.

    Ramsey is not cutting it and should be benched.

    1. Ramsey is invaluable in pressing and he is the best runner from the deep to the box since lampard. Dribbling is not the only thing important in football you know

    2. Well thought out article, Dave.

      Basically the question is who among Santi, Rambo and Ozil ought to be on wing, unless we change to a mf diamond. Each have their merits and downside. However if it comes to providing width, I think ozil is the best. Santi on the wing comes inside too often and too deep, and while he is a fine dribbler, he’s not a very direct one. Also he’s the best at escaping press in deep midfield, something which indispensable in my eyes cause too many times I’ve seen us losing the ball there and ending up conceding goals. Ozil on the wing will not affect the game as much, but his game intelligence is such that he often moves to width to stop us from getting too narrow even when he’s deployed at the centre. I trust his judgement on positioning and he’s a decent crosser. So I think he despite lacking the explosive dribbling of a true winger can do the job best among these three.

  8. Reason Wenger uses Cazorla is for distribution. Was not needed with Arteta but is with Coquelin – for now. If you want Coquelin’s added steel vs what Arteta offers, then you need to acccept the mix requires Cazorla deeper to keep the ball moving – quickly. Which in turn enables Ozil and Sanchez to be more dangerous

    Ramsey would need to reach Cazorla’s level of proficiency on that dimension for there to be any real debate to be had.

    Otherwise Ramsey needs tobe a better at DM job than Coquelin. And he isn’t either.

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