Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Tactics Column: Ramsey’s defensive display

Aaron Ramsey leads the way

In the end, Aaron Ramsey finished the game playing at right-back. He doesn’t care; he’s willing to play anywhere just to prove himself to Arsene Wenger and the fans (who have been particularly hard to win over), and it looks like he has finally done that. There are shades of Ray Parlour about the way Ramsey has selflessly filled in in a number of positions this season – right-back, left-back, defensive-midfield, central-midfield (his favourite position) and right-midfield, and sometimes as part of the front three. Indeed, sometimes his deployment is tactical.

He’s not always impressed and as you’d expect, sometimes he has looked out of place but now, playing back in his favourite position at central midfield alongside Mikel Arteta, it looks like he’s here to stay.

Key: Crosses – tackles, Diamonds – interceptions, Triangles – fouls committed, Circles – clearances.

Aaron Ramsey was superb in the 3-1 win over Norwich City, his performance earning him’s man-of-the match. He hassled, harried, tackled, drove forward and passed with precision, showing that finally he has harnessed his wonderful all-round footballing gifts – ironically, the same gifts that mean he’s often fielded in out-of-position. Since defeat to Bayern Munich at the Emirates, a display which might have made him a candidate to drop out of the team, Ramsey has gotten better and better with each game. Indeed, Wenger was hesitant to take him out after that game because he knew Ramsey would become such an important component of how the side plays, and he showed that against Norwich.

Ramsey recovered possession of the ball 7 times in the game – the most of any player – and his statistics overall in terms of defence are nearly as impressive. Of the players in the Premier League who have registered 50+ tackles, Ramsey has the best success rate at 90.74%. And add to that, he engages in a tackle every 29 minutes (and Arteta is 28) makes for an effective defensive shield. Indeed, proof is in Arsenal’s improved defensive displays which have seen the team move better as a unit, each designated a man to mark and get tight.

Against Norwich, they were once again fantastically disciplined, and although they were more concerned with retaining a shape than pressing as high as the pitch as possible, meaning they had to wait longer to get possession of the ball again, they were tough to break down. (As it was, a set-piece predictably proved to be the best way to score past Arsenal). And take a long while it did for Arsenal to finally score but they did, and defensive improvement seems to have given them confidence to win games.

Rusty Jack Wilshere

Jack Wilshere’s standing in the team seems to have reached Cesc Fabregas levels of expected brilliance. But sadly, he’s often failed to live up to that standard. That’s not to be a criticism of Wilshere; it’s just that too much is expected from him. And without good reason too, because he’s Arsenal most penetrative player. But Wilshere is still learning and that was apparent against Norwich. He lacked the spacial awareness of Tomas Rosicky and as such, was insignificant for most of Arsenal’s forward play, and was unable to get into positions to influence.

There were some promising signs; he linked up well with Ramsey in particular and played a great reverse pass to Kieran Gibbs in the first-half, but looked well off the pace. But there remains a feeling that there needs to be a way to slot Jack Wilshere in the team, and arguably, there are better candidates to play in the advanced midfield role. Certainly, Santi Cazorla is Arsenal’s best player and would be playing there if not for the risk of upsetting balance, his deployment out wide allowing Arsenal to play another creative midfielder. But what Wilshere has is that change of direction and as such, is most-Rosicky like. However, that’s only the case until Rosicky himself comes back. Wilshere needs to be given time to develop and that might mean accepting starting on the bench.

On Giroud and Podolski

Wenger’s comments after the game were strange. He severely criticised Olivier Giroud’s first-half performance, saying it was “very, very average” but highlighted how much he improved in the second-half – playing as the type of striker Arsenal needs. But he then paved the door open for Lukas Podolski to spearhead Arsenal’s attack instead.

The reason for that is that he wants to avoid a repeat of the first 70 minutes where Arsenal were too timid, allowed Norwich to gain some sort of platform with a clean sheet and hit Arsenal with a sucker-punch. With Podolski up front, Arsenal can use his spontaneity to be more clinical. As such, Wenger has worked hard in recent weeks to improve Podolski’s hold-up play and movement, as his finishing is probably the best at the club and his link-up play, as he showed when he entered, playing quick give-and-gos, is not bad too.

(Giroud made 6/11 passes in the second-half, only one into the box. In the second-half, he made 12/17 passes – 8 of them inside the box. Improvement).

Giroud’s performance though, had as much to do with the balance of the side as much as his idiosyncrasies. In the first-half, most of the play was in front of him so as such, he was used as an inverted pivot of sorts, as the team tried to bounce passes of him. However, that made him a little too static at times and attacks broke down. In the second-half, Giroud showed more urgency but this time, whenever the ball reached his feet, instead of laying it off, he could play the ball round the corner to Walcott or Podolski – as he did when the latter hit the crossbar. Then there is the threat out wide that the two substitutes pose and that allowed Giroud to play on the shoulder more. Fans want Podolski up front but Wenger’s comments at the end seem merely a ploy to motivate Giroud to play a more dynamic game.

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