The past month has seen much debate about the form and even the future of young Aaron Ramsey. Fans are divided on the issue of that there is no doubt. Many will defend him and point to his long term injury and the fact that he was over played due to other squad injuries, to the likes of Wilshere and Diaby. Some will say he must be patient and his talent will ensure he has a bright future, whilst others even suggest another season long loan may be required. There is undoubted credence in all and none of the above, but the fact remains that we have 8 central midfielders at least, when all are fit competing for 3 berths. What must be obvious to even his diehard defenders is that on current form Ramsey is not close to the 3 if all fit and well. However the aim of this article is not to further dishearten Ramsey supporters, but perhaps to offer a solution for the young Welshman. Because whilst so many have defended Aaron and condemned what has certainly been over the top criticism, I have not read too many actual positive suggestions. He has been described as a scapegoat frequently, even on this actual site, by a guest writer only last week. His numerous supporters say he will come good but seldom how they see this outcome materialising.
My solution is based on a few assumptions, none of which are unreasonable, but it is inextricably linked to the signing of a second top rate striker, which we are 99% certain will be Podolski. What is absolutely definitive though is that my solution has a strong precedent under Wenger. I have asked many of you this week if you wish to see a return to our winning 4411 formula with RVP playing Bergkamp to Podolski’s Henry. The most popular answer was exactly what I suspected and that is that you wish to see Wenger use more flexibility of tactics and formations, both during matches and based on opposition. I agree and it seems logical to continue with the fluid 4231 against the top sides and away from home, but to opt for a more aggressive 442 with 2 strikers at home, against weaker sides or well organised parked buses. So what has this got to do with Aaron Ramsey and Pele I hear you say?
Well here is it is and my historical precedent for the Ramsey solution for 2012/13 is indeed Pele, but not the Brazilian one. No I feel we can learn from the 1997/98 Pele, of the Romford variety. Yes for Ramsey to re-emerge as a future Arsenal star I believe we can look to Ray Parlour, our Premier League record appearance holder, who is unquestionably a club legend. From his debut under George Graham aged 19 in 1992, until the arrival of Wenger, Parlour had been, much like Ramsey, in and out of the side but he had always been a central midfielder as Ramsey is. In 1997 with the arrival of Vieira, Garde, Petit, the earlier arrival of Platt and the emergence of Stephen Hughes, Parlour initially appeared to be 6th in the pecking order for only 2 positions. In my opinion, and it is only mine, in 2012 Ramsey is behind Rosicky and a fit Diaby or Wilshere for the attacking centre role and is certainly not suited to sit alongside Song, Arteta or Coquelin.
In 1997 some might have thought that Parlour’s days were numbered as he had only stared 17 games in 96/97. Wenger however though differently and made a decision that no one saw coming when he began the season with Razor on the right side of his 4 man midfield. He took Parlour out of the engine room dominated by Vieira and Petit and let him learn his trade as a Wenger style player on the right flank. For me in 15 years as manger the transformation of Parlour from a journeyman later George Graham era footballer, into a top international, with instant first touch, the ability to beat a man and a precision pass, stands as one of Wenger’s finest coaching achievements.
However as I have written before it was not a right wing role as we had Overmars on the left and when he bombed on to join the attack Parlour would shuffle in and join Vieira and Petit. Of course Parlour did not just occupy the role but he made it his own and was an integral part of the team that won the double and was voted man of the match in the 2 nil victory over Newcastle at Wembley in the FA Cup final. It was at this time that Marc Overmars nicknamed Razor, the ‘Real Romford Pele’ a tag that has stuck ever since. Of course after 3 seasons on the right of midfield, when Petit left for Spain, despite Wenger signing van Bronckhurst and Lauren as replacements it was the Real Romford Pele who stepped back into the middle, a vastly improved footballer and along with Paddy drove Arsenal to a second double in 2001/2, this time scoring the ‘It’s only Ray Parlour’ goal in the Cup Final.
Marc Overmars and the ‘Real Romford Pele’
It is my hope and belief that Wenger will utilise a 442 next season both from the outset on occasion and during games and I see absolutely no reason why Ramsey should not be the right hand midfielder when we do. In a 4,2,3,1 I feel that Theo, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho will occupy the right wing roles but I do not feel any of these could be as effective in the right midfield position in a flat 4. Ramsey has a better engine than Theo or Gervinho and would undoubtedly be more effective covering Sagna when required to defend. However he also has the ability to beat a man, find a telling pass or to get to the bye line and cut the ball back for the oncoming strikers when we are in attack. I hope this will be a crucial role for the team next season, albeit it not in every game, and in Parlour and then Ljungberg he has 2 perfect role models. Let us not forget that when Wenger signed Freddie from Sweden he was an attacking centre midfielder, just as Ramsey is today. Some of you will say yes but Ramsey is not a winger and if you do you are missing my point. Neither was Ray Parlour, Freddie Ljungberg or for that matterHleb or Rosicky in 07/08. The ‘Real Romford Pele’ was converted by Wenger, leaned the role, improved as a player and them moved back in to the centre to great effect. Ljungberg, Hleb, and Rosicky all arrived at Arsenal as central attacking midfielders as Ramsey is now, but all first served their time playing on the right or left of a four man midfield. So if we do operate with a 4 man midfield diamond next season, as we did for so long in the early Wenger years, in appropriate games I see Ramsey being perfect for the right side role.
I firmly believe Ramsey could make a huge success of this position when we play 442 next season and like Freddie chip in with numerous assists and goals. This is turn will bring his confidence flooding back, such that when he is required in the centre he will be willing and able. One final thought however is that when operating 2 CM positions you need 4/5 players fighting for the positions so with the 3 we currently deploy 6/7 will be needed. By way of evidence for this I could point to either Manchester side this season but I won’t I will look to our own glory seasons.
In 2002 the main central pairing was Vieira and Ray Parlour who played in 53 and 41 matches between them including starts and substitute appearances. But the main pairing was ably supported by van Bronckhorst, Grimandi and Edu, with 31, 40 and 27 appearances between them across the 4 competitions. With starts and substitute appearances Wenger was able to keep 5 central midfielders happy and all 5 won Premiership medals.
In 2004 during our ‘Invincibles’ campaign Wenger was very fortunate with injuries but still only operating with 2 central midfielders was able to keep 4 top quality internationals occupied on our path to glory. Vieira and Gilberto were the first choice and managed 44 and 46 appearances each, but Edu and Parlour both contributed a huge amount playing 48 and 41 times respectively, albeit obviously often from the bench.
So there you go young Aaron, keep your head down. don’t hide and learn from the ‘Real Romford Pele’ and if you finish you career have as successfully as Ray Parlour you will not have gone far wrong