Are Ramsey and Wilshere Arsenal's best midfield pairing?
Ramsey had been Arsenal's best player in the 2013-14 Premier League campaign up until he got injured. Facing a dilemma, Arsene Wenger chose to replace the Welshman with Wilshere. Since he was put into the team he has arguably been the Gunners best midfielder. With Ramsey expected to return from injury next week, according to PhysioRoom.com, Wenger is now faced with a beautiful predicament: Could he play both together?
It is clear that both players see central midfield as their best positions. It is also clear that Wenger sees central midfield as their best positions, too.
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He has developed and matured, not only as a player, but as a person as well. I was a midfielder, and I would have loved to have had what he has.
He can defend, he can attack, he can score goals. What do you want more?
There is little doubt that Wenger sees Ramsey as a complete midfielder. Given the specialization of the midfield positions with the popularity of 4-2-3-1 formation over the last decade, it is now a rarity to see a player so balanced in the skills of attacking and defending.
And yet, Arsenal seem to have a number of players of this type.
Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher even prompted the English international about his contribution to the team. Neville, in particular, was impressed with Wilshere's attacking contribution and quoted his three goals and three assists this term and how he was affecting the game more in the final third than in previous years.
Wilshere was then asked by Carragher if central midfield was his best position?
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I think it is. I spoke to the manager a few times about it, and he thinks it as well.
I'm not really a defensive midfielder, I'd say I was an attacking midfielder, but if you're going to be one of those, you're going to have to create goals and score goals.
The immediate problem for Arsenal is that both players are better going forward. This may be the exuberance of youth, Ramsey is 23 and Wilshere is 22.
As players, their statistical return is quite similar. However, this is where statistics can mask the difference in playing styles. Wenger is oft quoted as saying Ramsey is like "an offense minded Roy Keane," h/t the Daily Telegraph, and Wilshere is primarily seen as a playmaker.
When Keane first burst onto the greater footballing scene with Nottingham Forest, under the great Brian Clough, he was almost exactly like Ramsey. Clough eased the Irishman into the Forest team by giving him the offensive role in central midfield. There, he supported the attack while Garry Parker took up the more defensively minded role.
It is worth remembering that during the 1991-92 season, Keane scored 14 goals in all competitions, according to Wikipedia. He hit double figures in his first couple of seasons before Sir Alex Ferguson signed him as Bryan Robson's successor.
Ramsey is similar to Keane in that he powers up and down the pitch, closes his opponents down with great speed, and he supports both attack and defense in almost equal measure. Eventually, as Keane matured and took up a more disciplined role for Manchester United, he became more defensively minded.
His defensive contribution can be seen in his 109 tackles in 18 games, that's an average of six tackles per game.
Wilshere, in comparison, has contributed just 44 tackles in 19 games. The 22-year-old has created 28 goalscoring chances from a passing rate of 74 percent.
Tackles per game is a crude tool to separate players. What it does show is that Ramsey is quicker than Wilshere because he gets to the break of the ball more often. Wilshere is also more offensively minded than his Welsh teammate. He does his best work when picking up the ball and initiating attacks.
Ramsey, by contrast, is the kind of player who, first, wins the ball and then gives it to the likes of Wilshere, Mesut Ozil or Santi Cazorla. He then has the pace, power and endless stamina to support the attack and get on the end of the final ball.
At this very moment in time, playing together and effectively at the highest level is beyond Ramsey and Wilshere as both players are more offensively minded.
Ramsey was defensively exposed against Borussia Dortmund when Nuri Sahin negated his game completely. Wilshere does his best work in the final third, as can be seen by his excellent performance against Norwich City. The same can be said of Ramsey, who has proved most excellent in the final third this term.
Both Ramsey and Wilshere need the likes of Mathieu Flamini to support them defensively.
Flamini and Mikel Arteta have been brilliant in the selfless way they have provided the foundation for all that has been good about Ramsey and Wilshere in 2013-14.
The problem for Wenger is that Ramsey and Wilshere are just too similar when deployed in central midfield. They take up similar positions and do not offer enough from a defensive point of view. Playing both together would prove disastrous against a top-ranked team.
This can be seen in the graphics used to show their heat maps and passing positions.
In time, the Ramsey and Wilshere partnership might just prove to be as effective as the Keane and Paul Scholes partnership that dominated the Premier League for so long.
That time, however, is not now.
Statistics provided by Squawka, Soccerbase and the Premier League, unless otherwise noted.