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.
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.
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.
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?
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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