Many of you will be aware that I am not the biggest fan of Aaron Ramsey. I read much of Sohum’s article from before the Manchester City match last week, some points I agreed with and some not so much. I’d just like to highlight some things before tonight’s match concerning Arsenal’s tactics, selections and injuries in midfield.
Ramsey’s recurring muscle injuries are a worry, as Arsenal will be in serious trouble if he picks up an injury before February. Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere are all missing through injury at the moment. Arteta is supposedly returning from injury at the moment, but, after his performance vs. West Brom, which cost Arsenal all three points at The Hawthorns, I would not want to see him back in the first team for this match. Arteta, like Ramsey, seems to suffer from frequent muscle injuries, so, in my opinion, it is a matter of time before he breaks down again. Wilshere is only back in about 3 weeks and Rosicky another week or two after that, so Arsenal don’t have any room to rotate players in midfield at the moment.
I agreed with Sohum in that Ramsey provided needed cover for Bellerin on the right side of the pitch on occasion when we needed to defend, although he was always ready to break quickly on some occasions where this was not the correct thing to do in that instant, but, most of the time, he was well-positioned and made a number of tackles and interceptions and recycled the ball quickly when out on the right. I think Ramsey’s best position now is on the right, due to his ability to dove-tail with Ozil, Walcott and Giroud in attack and drift around slightly, making him difficult to mark and provide an outlet that is more reliable currently than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in terms of assists and goals. Joel Campbell, however, is proving his worth on the right at the moment. Campbell played a very good match vs. Manchester City on the 21st and is in a good vein of form in general, showing supporters he can be a good squad player for Arsenal. Campbell was tireless in his defensive duties, getting back quickly to help Bellerin, something that Oxlade-Chamberlain often does not do.
However, I disagree with Sohum’s position on Arsenal needing to play in an open style in general. Southampton may have a poor recent record, with just 1 point in the last 6 matches – but, since their return to the Premier League, they have always given us a tough match. There are no easy games in the Premier League, so it is my opinion that Wenger and the players need to keep things tight and hit quickly on the counter. Since Sanchez seems unlikely to be back until after the F.A. Cup 3rd Round match on the 9th, I think Campbell will still deputise on one of the wings, with either Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other – this longer recovery period may bode well for Arsenal in the title chase later into the season, as I am sure that City’s Aguero will pick up another injury and they look less of a team without him in it.
However, for this tactic to really work, Ramsey and Flamini must curb their forward runs into attacking positions and be defensively disciplined, particularly in away matches like this one that have the potential to be tricky affairs, as these runs expose Per Mertesacker and, to a lesser extent, Laurent Koscielny. Mertesacker is almost certain to start, as he makes few errors when provided with adequate screening by holding midfielders. Mertesacker, as is well-known, does not have a good turn of speed and thus needs help occasionally from the holding midfielders against attacking players. Of course, there is less need to use this tactic if Gabriel is playing, but I think he is having some language struggles which are keeping him out of the team – I may well be wrong of course! Nacho Monreal, while an excellent player who has shown great form in the last year, has struggled a little against players with pace in some matches – again, the holding midfielders need to stay back to help shield the defense.
Southampton are very close to being at full strength, missing Frazer Forster and the on-loan Maarten Stekelenberg in goals, along with Gardos in defence and forward Jay Rodriguez. What that means is that the speedy Sadio Mane is a certainty to start, with Graziano Pelle and Shane Long, a player who has given Arsenal difficulties before, also likely to feature. Pelle and Long are also capable for competing in the air for the ball, which will give our defenders some pause. Other important players for Southampton will be Dusan Tadic, the creative left-sided midfielder/winger and Jose Fonte, their Captain and stabilising rock in central defense. The steady Northern Irishman midfielder Steven Davis is also likely to put in an appearance at some point, as is James Ward-Prowse, the Saints’ young star midfield player.
I’ll also hypothesize something else: what if Ramsey were to curb his runs and his muscle injuries lessened, or even disappeared, as a result? I can’t help but think that some of these injuries are self-inflicted, due to Ramsey trying to do too much on the pitch in every match and possibly over-taxing himself on the training pitch too. Ramsey’s explosiveness from midfield and high number of sprints may well be a factor in this, in addition to his dogged, never-give-up attitude, which has won him many fans. Now, I can’t speak with any accuracy to what occurs during training, but the number of muscle injuries that Ramsey is affected by is higher than other members of our squad so that makes me wonder about what he is doing differently compared to the other players in the squad. Ramsey’s injuries may also partially be biomechanical in nature, which is much more difficult to fix. There are so many factors that may be contributing to Ramsey’s injuries, but the one thing the player can do to try to keep himself off of the treatment table is to run a bit less in matches and training.
Now, I know many of you are already shouting that Rosicky, Wilshere and Arteta are also walking wounded a lot of the time. Arteta, like Ramsey, gets a high number of muscle injuries in relation to the rest of the squad, but I think his are more age-related than Ramsey’s. Wilshere has had a large number of injuries too, but a number of these are due to contact with other players in matches, such as the ankle injury last season from McNair kicking him up in the air, which has probably had an impact in some degree on Jack’s current injury. Rosicky is recovering from another knee injury – he has had a lot of those in his career, sadly, some of which may be a result of a knock-on effect from past injuries. I am not a medical professional with a background in sports science – I’m just a simple bloke offering an opinion.
Anyway, I think the main thing is that Arsenal should keep it tight and not give Southampton any opportunities to attack and discipline from Ramsey and Flamini will be key to this.
Got an opinion on this? Hit the Comment button below and hit me up on Twitter at @timjbharg.
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.