Do you ever get the feeling that quite often the same discussions arise during every single season. Whether it be the minutes of our substitutions, our rotation or players playing in certain positions? Well sometimes it all kind of feels rather déjà vuish to me.
The Aaron Ramsey out wide debate is one that will run and run it seems almost regardless of the performance and result on the day, it always turns into a big talking point. It was the same when we produced arguably our best performance of the season last season, at home to Liverpool. We played exceptionally well both defensively and offensively and yet the general consensuses was that we won the game despite of Aaron rather than because he played a part.
It is not difficult to find tons of the same stuff on comments sections or social media. RAMSEY IS NOT A WINGER WENGER?!!!
Trust me, there are plenty more and plenty more irate comments than the example above.
Ok, so this season things are a little different, Aaron is yet to hit his stride so far. He is not scoring goals or assisting very much just yet but we as football fans tend to forget everything that has happened before the here and now. Ramsey is a big player for Arsenal, a hugely influential one at both ends of the pitch and that is why he is one of the first names on the team sheet. Arsène Wenger is fully aware of the levels Ramsey can reach and he will only do so by playing games.
So why are we playing a square peg in a round hole? Is often a question I hear being asked. Why are we playing a central midfielder on the 'wing' when we have natural wingers who want to get to the byline and whip in a delicious cross for our centre forwards to leap up and head into the back of the net? Like the good old days. I mean you play your wingers out wide and your central midfielder in the middle with a destroying beast of a DM just ahead of your no nonsense centre backs. This is typically the way football fans in general see the game, it is all very black and white and straight forward. Players have designated roles all over the pitch and using a different player to perform the role of another is wrong or as used above, a square peg in a round hole.
Now I am no football manager and certainly no tactical expert but I do try and understand why the manager makes decisions and his reasoning for those decisions. So here is my understanding of this tactical move, hear me out.
While we, the fans are so rigid with our perception of player positions, the Arsenal manager is more concerned about the balance of his team. Whether that be defensively and offensively, or perhaps power and technique. He ultimately wants a good blend of all or most of the important ingredients.
Let us rewind the clock a little to 1997/98 where he used Ray Parlour on the right wing. Does anyone truly class Raymond Pele Parlour as a natural wide player? Or was he used there as balance because Marc Overmars played on the opposite flank? If Robert Pires and Marc Overmars played for Arsenal at the same time, you can bet your bottom dollar with Bet365 and on William Hill that both would not have played on either flank at the same time alongside Bergkamp and Anelka/Henry.
The balancing act does not stop at the attacking players either, drop a position back to the fullback position and we have traditionally gone for one offensive option with a more defensive option on the other side. It is why the Ashley Cole/Robert Pires combination worked so well. Pires was never a get to the line and cross balls in sort of player, Arsène has never really played that way for any length of time. The width came from Ashley Cole while Lauren was usually the more defensive option. Gibbs and Sagna had that same balance. Sagna was often our third centre back while Gibbs pushed forward.
So let me stop reminiscing of days gone by and let me focus on our Welsh wonder. Let me start off by saying that I think it is quite obvious that Aaron Ramsey is better in central midfield. His partnership with Mesut Özil, his running from deep and his underrated ball winning ability makes him a top central midfielder, no question. But the most important thing is the bigger picture and the bigger picture is the team. Arsène tried to fit Ramsey back into the middle against West Ham and pushing Santi Cazorla wider but the balance was not correct. Maybe it would have improved over time, maybe Coquelin and Ramsey could develop together but we did not really have the time or room for error to allow that to play out. The introduction of Francis Coquelin into the side means we currently have to play Santi Cazorla or perhaps Mikel Arteta in that position in order to control games so Ramsey is the one moved into a free wide role.
Adrian Clarke explained his role very well on the breakdown after the Crystal Palace victory, go and check it out. But the number one concern seems to be that Ramsey does not play as a wide player. We lose the ability to burst past the full back at pace and cross balls into the box.
Well let me introduce you to this guy I know, he is pretty fast. Apparently he is the fastest at the club, even after new timings this pre season. He grew up as a winger at his previous club. Has a very good cross, in fact I would say his crossing is better than any of our natural wingers at the club. And he provides plenty of width.
Hector Bellerin made 4 key passes in that game. Look at his cross for Theo's header or his slid pass for Theo in the second half. Why do we need a wide player occupying Bellerin's spaces on the pitch? By using Bellerin's strengths getting forward we can squeeze in another midfielder who can win the ball, score goals and create chances and while the centre of the pitch is his best position, he can still do all of that from a floating wide position.
To prove my balance point, check out Bellerin and Monreal's heat map from the Stoke match.
I don't have to point out to you which one is which. Clearly Bellerin is Cole and Monreal is Lauren, just the other way around.
Here is a little comparison with the right backs of the other top four clubs. Yes it is a very small sample size but playing a game less Hector has far better key pass and chance creation numbers already. That tells me that he is playing very advanced for Arsenal and/or is a fantastic attacking player who plays a big part in our offensive game, especially at home.
As you can see from Ramsey's heat map, he is able to move around the pitch and outnumber Stoke City in other areas of the pitch while Hector Bellerin is doing 'his job' on the right flank. Ironically, Ramsey actually stayed wider than usual in this match and made a few runs down the line that resulted in crosses but the point remains.
It's all about partnerships baby, about balance and I am quite confident that once Ramsey gets his game to the levels he is fully capable of, we will get plenty of joy from his play even in a position that is not his preferred choice.
And if you have forgotten just how bloody brilliant Ramsey is, well here is a reminder.
Not long to wait, he'll be back to his brilliant best with a few more games, so chill.