Shall I compare thee to Ramsey of yore?
Thou art more likely to misplace a simple pass
or attempt a dribble between two defenders.
Thou eschewer of shots within the box
Thou splitting pass not maker any morer!
As you can see, I watched Aaron Ramsey play for Wales against Belgium this weekend. Ramsey had what looked to me like a shocker. Maybe he’s unfit, as he himself suggested, but yet he was asked to run the offense from his perch at the #10 position. Up front for a Welsh side that had Gareth Bale’s Alice Band in the forward-ish role, Ramsey looked a shadow of his former self: he couldn’t dribble, couldn’t pass, and ran with all the pace of a man stuck in treacle.
Of course, that kind of performance always gets me wondering what, exactly, has gone wrong in Aaron’s game this year. We all know that he’s come in for a lot of criticism, most notably from Arsene Wenger himself, and he responded the other day making claims that he isn’t 100% fit. So, I looked at his numbers and you know what? I agree with him, it looks like he’s playing at about 90%.
|Ramsey (per 90)||2012||2013||2014|
|Shots 6 yard||0.2||0.2||0.3|
|Errant Short Passes||7.7||10.4||9.7|
|Errant SP Percent||11.85%||14.55%||12.20%|
|Through ball KP||0.1||0.4||0|
You only need to look at two numbers to see what effect the injuries have had on Ramsey: dribbles and tackles. Both dribbling and tackling require confidence, quick bursts of speed, good touch (especially for dribbling) and good timing.
If you’re carrying an injury, or even harboring worries about getting re-injured, you’re far less confident in your ability. This will often lead to the kind of weak dribbling attempts I’ve noticed from Ramsey lately. The same for confidence in the tackle. You’re hardly going to go flying about the pitch looking to mix it up with the opposition midfielder if you’re worried about pulling a groin muscle. Football is a game of millimeters and any hesitation in almost any skill is going to be exposed.
The same with timing, touch, and speed. If you’re not playing every day then your timing and touch goes sour. And if you’re carrying an injury, you certainly aren’t going to have those bursts of speed needed to get by a defender with a dribble.
Simply put, players need to be 100% match fit and confident in their abilities when they step on the pitch. The Premier League is a brutal playground where any weakness is ruthlessly exploited. Ramsey’s drop off in tackles and dribbles is consistent with his story that he’s lacking match fitness.
What isn’t consistent is the shots from distance. I always think of a player taking too many shots from outside the 18 yard box as lacking in confidence, patience, and/or going for glory. Balotelli, for example, is the long-shot king and despite the cool exterior and the swagger I think he’s a player who lacks true confidence in his abilities. He’s also the kind of player who loves the spectacular and seems like he’s the impulsive type.
Ramsey’s shots from distance could be a sign that he is rushing things a little bit and maybe has been sapped of his confidence by the injury. This would explain why Arsene Wenger has urged Ramsey to simplify his game, to return to basics, and do what he does best: pass and move. A little bit more patience (from the player and us*) will pay off in the end for Ramsey. He will get the ball closer to goal and will start scoring again. Trying to force the issue through ill-advised long range bombs, silly dribbles, and back-heel passes is not going to cure anything.
Giving the ball away too much
Here’s the deal, Arsenal have literally never had a player like Sanchez, at least not in the modern stats-era. Even trying to define which position he’s playing in is difficult. Is he a wing player? Is he an attacking mid? Is he a second striker? Is he Arsenal’s main man at the moment? He’s all of those and more, which is why his stats are so weird.
(below the goals and assists lines are per90 stats)
|Sanchez 2014||Cesc 2009/2010||Van Persie 2011/2012||Walcott 2012/2013||Ramsey 2013/2014|
|Errant short passes||11.9||13||5.4||3.3||10.4|
|Err. Short pass %||23%||20%||20%||16%||14%|
|Shots from distance||1.5||1.8||1||1.1||1.2|
|Shots inside the box||1.8||1.7||3.7||2.3||1.3|
As you can see, Sanchez isn’t an outright forward like van Persie and Walcott. He doesn’t just receive the ball the way that they do. He is involved in the build-up phase as well as the final phase. That’s why, on a Per90 basis, Alexis passes the ball about twice as often as Welbeck or Giroud (54 v. 29).
Still, his errant short pass rate is alarmingly high for a midfielder. He leads Arsenal with 103 errant short passes and that’s dragging his pass completion rate down to 77%. If he was a forward, like Giroud, that wouldn’t be too bad. Giroud, last season, averaged 9.8 giveaways per90 from short passes. That was 31% of his attempted short passes which went astray.
Sanchez is not just a pure forward. Instead, he’s a hybrid of forward, wing, and creative midfielder. The result is that he’s leading Arsenal in goals, assists (tied with Welbeck), key passes, dribbles, being dispossessed, turnovers, and errant short passes.
When I watched Sanchez play for Chile in the World Cup this summer, I noticed that he has a tendency to try to do everything on his own. This led to several matches where I thought he dribbled too much, passed poorly, dwelt on the ball too long, or made a silly turnover. For example, in the match against Brazil, Alexis scored the goal, had 2 key passes, dribbled 6 times, was fouled 7 times, turned the ball over 4 times, and was dispossessed 14 times — each of those stats led his team. Great players do this; when they feel the team is lacking a bit they will try to take on everything in order to will the team to win.
I suspect that Sanchez is giving the ball away so much because he’s still trying to get to know his teammates. And while he may be topping Arsenal in that category it’s important to note that on a per90 basis, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are second and third, averaging 10 errant short passes each and with Wilshere missing about 16% of his short passes while Ramsey is missing about 12% of his. Interestingly, I think Sanchez, Wilshere, and Ramsey could all take on a little of Wenger’s criticism of Ramsey and try to simplify their game.
*Part of Ramsey’s problem is that Arsenal fans are expecting more from him this season. His total drop in numbers isn’t really that bad, but compared to where some folks expect him to be it probably looks horrible.