Why Holding Midfielder Is Aaron Ramsey's Best Role at Arsenal
The obvious difference? Arsène Wenger returned Ramsey to the central midfield, where he is clearly more comfortable than on the wing.
But even more significantly than that, he was playing in a deeper-lying, more holding role. This is the best role for Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal.
Ramsey has traditionally been seen as an attacking midfielder. Before his horrific leg break in 2010, he had started breaking into the first team on a regular basis, impressing with his virtuoso technique and penetrating runs into the box.
He played a similar attacking role on his eventual return from injury. His most effective spell came in the middle of the 2011/12 season, at his best essentially operating in the hole behind Robin van Persie.
Yet that form tapered off alarmingly towards the end of the season. Visibly jaded, Ramsey displayed a lack of sharpness that frustrated supporters, especially when manifested in failed attempts at trickery.
Fatigue may also have highlighted the downside to a tendency to hold onto the ball. It became not unusual to see Ramsey work hard to get into optimal position, then wait a fraction too long and waste his opportunity.
But that same measured approach can benefit him in a deeper role—what may look tentative at the edge of the area is merely patient as play builds from the back—as will his creativity, vision, drive and passing accuracy.
With Jack Wilshere establishing himself as the ideal advanced playmaker—the role Ramsey seemed so suited to pre-injury—it makes sense for Ramsey to develop the defensive side of his game and take up a deeper-lying role.
Wenger clearly thinks so. Mikel Arteta's injury spell in January first opened the door for this positional adjustment, but there are signs Wenger may want to make it Ramsey's long-term role.
Ahead of the Liverpool match, Ramsey told Arsenal.com:
“I had a meeting with the boss the other week and he explained to me what’s required for this role. I think I've done that in the last couple of games and I feel good in myself... [I've been] getting stuck in and winning the ball back, been involved a lot more and got a lot of touches of the ball."
Indeed, against West Ham, Ramsey had by far the most touches of anyone on the pitch (133, according to WhoScored?), in addition to an impressive 95 percent pass success rate.
He also made key, specific defensive contributions in that match, including successful tackles, a valuable interception and, most eye-catchingly, a spectacular goal-line clearance.
Ramsey's penchant for drifting into central midfield when he has been played on the wing might suggest a potential problem with positional discipline, but he seems much more comfortable staying deep in a central role than he ever did trying to stay wide in attack.
His performance against Sunderland should dispel any lingering defensive doubts.
Unexpectedly needed to shift over to cover right-back following Carl Jenkinson's dismissal, Ramsey defended competently, putting in the kind of determined performance that exemplified Arsenal's win at the Stadium of Light.
After all these years waiting for Abou Diaby to string together a sustained enough period of fitness to prove his mettle in the role Wenger seems so determined should be his, perhaps now is the time to realise the answer to Arsenal's holding midfield problem has been there all along in Aaron Ramsey.
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