Before the match against Anderlecht, Arsene Wenger publicly praised Aaron Ramsey. The boss said that the Arsenal midfielder had gone a bit “Hollywood” in the first part of the season, looking for goals instead of doing the work needed in midfield, but that he was ready to get back to basics. Unfortunately, that pre-match message went unheeded by the Arsenal midfielder as Anderlecht dropped three goals on an Arsenal side which naively attacked for the last 30 minutes when they probably should have sat back and defended. And that attack was often led by Aaron Ramsey.
Arseblog’s screengrab in this morning’s post clearly illustrates the massive problem created when a team is 3-2 up and one of Arsenal’s two more-defensive midfielders goes forward in search of a fourth goal.
That cluster of players forward isn’t directly responsible for the goal but is rather indicative of how much space Arsenal conceded in the midfield in the final 30 minutes of that game. It also shows a lack of discipline in that when you have a 3-2 lead you shouldn’t see five players forward.
That lack of discipline was evident again a few seconds after this screen grab when Ramsey lined up a free kick and blasted it over the bar. It may not tickle the fancy of the footballing purists out there but few would have complained if Ramsey had passed the ball to Alexis who then dribbled over to the corner flag. Doing that may be cynical and it wouldn’t guarantee that Arsenal would have won the match, but it is the correct tactic in the 90th minute and would have certainly increased Arsenal’s chances of winning the game.
Arsene Wenger clearly had a word with Ramsey before the match to remind him of his duties as a midfielder given the fact that he revealed the following in his pre-match presser:
If you play like [you believe that you] have to score, every time you want to be in the box you forget a little bit of the basics of the job, but [Ramsey] is back now. He had a little moment when he was not at his best but that can happen. I am fully confident that he is back.
It’s no surprise then that after the match Wenger was fuming:
…we had a poor defensive performance from the first to the last minute today. …it was a combination of switching off and fatigue as well. You could see we couldn’t win the challenges and they finished stronger and sharper – we got punished. I think when we lost Mikel Arteta we lost out because he was one of the few who defended well.
That bit about Arteta being the only one who defended well along with his pre-match comments about Ramsey returning to basics look like Wenger taking a swipe at Ramsey. Wenger rarely criticizes performances, and even more rarely criticizes players, and given the two dubious goals that the referee gave, Wenger could have deflected criticism away from his team by focusing on the referee. But the fact that he didn’t and that he instead focused his ire on the players’ performances both before and after the match (specifically on Ramsey, Arteta’s midfield partner) indicates that Wenger could be frustrated with the young Welshman.
Wenger’s frustration is probably not borne out of anything other than love and respect for Ramsey. Wenger banked on Ramsey being the new Cesc. So much so that Wenger cited Ramsey as one of the reasons why he didn’t take Cesc back this summer. But Ramsey has dropped from Arsenal’s star midfielder last season to a lesser star midfielder this season and if you compare Ramsey’s stats from last season to this one on a “Per90″ basis you see the difference fairly quickly. So, it’s understandable that Arsene is a bit frustrated with his star pupil.
Here are the highlights for those who don’t want to click through:
- Ramsey was second on the team last season in tackles per game with 3.3 (successful) per game
- This season he is only completing 2.1 tackles per game.
- His missed tackles per game has stayed almost exactly the same as last season and that means his total tackles attempted is down from 6.44 per game to 5.12
- His other defensive numbers are basically the same: his interceptions are still one per game, which isn’t good for a defensive midfielder, but he’s never been a defensive midfielder
- His clearances per game are up a little, to just over 1 per game — again, he’s not a defensive midfielder
- He has never been one to get in the way and block a shot and has zero blocked shots this season (he had 3 all of last season)
- But he does have two defensive errors already compared to the one from last season
- Passing stats are almost all exactly the same, except his Key Passes numbers have more than doubled from 1.23 last season to 2.81 this season. This is because he is going forward more than ever before and with Welbeck and Alexis willing shooters in front of him, he is getting them shots.
- Despite the increase in Key Passes, Ramsey is not creating as many assist. He has just 1 assist in 9 matches this season compared to 8 in 23 last season.
- This key pass/assists drop off is part of Ramsey’s new-found general inefficiency in attack.
- His shooting accuracy is down from 71% last season to 43% this season
- His shots per game numbers are up from 2.56 per90 to 3.30 per90
- The reason he is missing more and scoring less despite shooting more is that he is shooting more from distance (outside the box) rather than taking shots in good areas like he did last season. His shots from distance per90 has doubled from 1.18 to 2.31.
- And worryingly for a box to box midfielder his ability to dribble past an opponent has also dried up dropping from an already mediocre 42% success rate to an asinine 21%.
You simply cannot have your central midfielder giving up the ball on 80% of his dribbles. That would be a terrible percentage for a forward who scores you a ton of goals. For example, the worst I’ve seen was Luis Suarez two seasons ago and he was a 41% dribbler and this season Alexis Sanchez often tries too hard and only completes 53% of his dribbles. But dribbles aside, looking at shots from distance, tackles, blocks, and everything else, clearly, all of Ramsey’s stats are down.
But more worrying isn’t the bulk of his play, which (despite the drop off) actually compares favorably with Cesc Fabregas. The really concerning part is that in a game where Arsenal are 3-0 up, and after having had a taking to by the manager before the match, and having Flamini on the pitch, Aaron Ramsey was trying to get Arsenal a fourth goal. He was still trying to get Arsenal a 4th goal in the 93rd minute when Anderlecht scored.
Arsene Wenger came in for a lot of criticism after the match for his rather bumbling substitution of Podolski for Welbeck. It was an indefensible switch from a defensive standpoint because everyone knows that when it comes to doing the work of playing defense the last person you throw on from that Arsenal bench is Lukas Podolski. Podolski being the guy who couldn’t even be bothered to bring his shin pads to the Dortmund match. But Ramsey also has to shoulder some of the blame here.
Thankfully, I’m convinced that Ramsey, more than anyone on this team bar Alexis, has the shoulders to carry that burden. He will have been stung by the criticism after the match and I would put money on a solid performance this weekend. Aaron must ditch the palm trees and swimsuits of Hollywood and embrace the brownstones and wellies of North London.