Arsenal have not looked like serious title challengers for a number of years now, the most recent semi-assault on the top spot coming in 2013-14, where the Gunners occupied first position more than any other side. During that campaign, Aaron Ramsey was on fire.
The Welsh midfielder had battled back from a career threatening injury against Stoke back in 2010, where he severely broke his leg. Manager Arsene Wenger gradually deployed the Welshman further back in midfield, acting as one of the holding midfielders in 4-2-3-1.
However, hold he did not. He was in fine form as the Gunners shot up the league, a goal scoring explosive midfielder in the mould of Frank Lampard had been born.
As time has passed since then, Ramsey has been played in a number of different positions. Currently, he often finds himself on the right flank of the same formation, unable to influence games quite as much as he has done in the past.
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Santi Carzola and Francis Coquelin are, at the present moment, the two men deployed further back. The silky Spaniard and ferocious Frenchman were paired together towards the start of the year, and the blend of physicality and skill they provide has led to an unlikely pairing.
Ramsey has lost out. The 25-year old told the Daily Mirror: “I prefer to play in the middle.”
On the wing he does not possess the pace of a Theo Walcott or an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the side can sometimes look unbalanced.
With Mesut Ozil, the clubs’ record signing, the first choice as a Number 10, competition for places is intense. A return to the central position in the win over Newcastle saw an upturn in performance for the former Cardiff man, who created five chances.
His performances on the right have not been bad it’s just he’s not as good as he used to be. During 2013/14 he established himself as one of the best maestros in the league, constantly popping up with goals and taking games by the scruff of the neck.
It just seems Arsenal’s fluidity is stiffened somewhat with the Welsh wizard on the wing. The game can become too narrow, and despite their incisive excellence provided to the Gunners by the vast array of silky midfielders, sides can be hard to break down. Especially without a world-class centre forward. But that is a whole other story.
More jarringly perhaps, is the fact that England star Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot secure a starting berth, despite having huge potential. After his goal in the Charity Shield, much was expected of the 22-year old – yet he’s unable to truly make the position his own.
Arsenal’s embarrassment of riches in the engine room is probably what makes them constant top four candidates. Neither their defence nor striking options are anywhere near on par with their rivals, it is the midfield men who make the side. Alexis Sanchez can clearly operate up front, the man can do almost anything, but ‘attacking midfielder’ may be the best phrase to describe him.
Trying to shoe-horn Ramsey into a position he is not wholly comfortable with creates an in-balance in the side. Though he is talented enough to perform there, Wenger should cast his mind back two years and remember what a player he had on his hands.