A player getting injured is never a positive. No matter how much you might dislike said player, or he be out of form, losing a player for any length of time is bad news.
However, as the saying go’s, every cloud has a silver lining. And with Aaron Ramsey’s injury, there is a silver lining.
Since the turn of the year, Arsenal have struggled in the centre of midfield. Most evident was against Manchester United at Old Trafford, where there just seemed to be a huge hole between defence and attack.
The main cause of this issue is not having a player who operates between attack and defence who can transition the play.
Transition is one of those buzz words that has come into football recently. It basically means taken the ball through zones. From defence into midfield, from midfield into attack. It can happen in two man ways, passing and running.
Yaya Toure, for example, is brilliant at running the ball from midfield into attack. He picks up the ball in the middle of the park and drives forward with it, forcing players back.
Since Santi Cazorla picked up his injury, Arsenal have struggled with this transition. Cazorla in recent years a perfect example of a player who transitions the ball by passing it.
Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey individually are excellent players. They have engines on them, and will be important players in any team. The issue is neither of them is great at either passing the ball, or running with it.
Coquelin is a player who breaks up the play, Ramsey a player who covers a lot of ground and gets in the opponents box. You can probably count on one hand how often either have picked up the ball from the defence, and ‘pinged’ it out to the wide men, or over the top for someone else to run on it. And I would be surprised if either have dribbled it past a man this season.
It is simply not their game.
Alexis Sanchez (running) and Mesut Ozil (passing) are excellent transitioners (at this point I am making up words). But there work is done in the opposition third. They rarely come deep to pick up the ball. And nor should they.
What this results in is Arsenal struggling to get the ball from defence to upfront.
How often have we seen the following scenario?
Cech rolls the ball out to Koscielny. He in turn plays it to Mertesacker. The ball go’s out wide to Bellerin, who plays it straight back to Mertesacker. It then go’s forward to Coquelin. Back to Koscielny. Across to Monreal. Back to Cech. How then hoofs it forward.
8 passes. 100% pass rate. But the ball has never left our half. And ends up on the head of the opposing centre back. And 8 passes is not even that many. Arsenal have previously gone side to side, left to right, numerous times, before pressure becomes too much, and the ball is lost.
It is great for pass completion statistics, but not great for scoring goals.
Cazorla was the player who would take the ball of the back 4, or Coquelin, and drive forward with it. Watch his highlights from Manchester City away last season. It was a perfect example of how to transition the ball from defence into attack. Both by running with it and passing it.
Back a few years ago, our man in the middle to transition the ball was Mikel Arteta. His range of passing was exceptional. And so many attacks by Arsenal were started by him. He then allowed Ramsey to push on higher and score the goals he did. Arteta was the key man in the middle of the park.
Since he lost his legs, Coquelin came in for him, and his passing range is just not the same. Ramsey needed to step up, but that is not his game either. Cazorla or Jack Wilshere next to Coquelin would be much more fruitful.
In the same way, Cazorla or Wilshere would struggle alongside an Arteta or Xabi Alonso. None of them have the stamina and physicality to get around the park. Ramsey is the ideal foil for the later type of players.
Coquelin and Ramsey work’s no better than Arteta and Cazorla would work.
Think of the great Spain side of recent years. They had Busquets who was the legs, Alonso who was the passer. Alonso was the key man who gets the play going.
So Arsenal have been in the position recently where they have got lot’s of legs in the middle of the park, but not much that can do anything with the ball. This results in us going wide very early, where there is less space, and we end up putting aimless balls into the box.
With Ramsey now out injured, it should mean Mohamed Elneny comes into the middle of the park.
In his performances so far for Arsenal, Elneny has been busy. Always moving. Always available. There to pick up the ball of any of the back 4, no matter who has it. What he has then done is pick the right ball, and more importantly, ball forward.
When Elneny is on the pitch, Arsenal’s transition from defence through the midfield into the strikers is so much smoother. With Elneny often following the ball forward ensuring that he is either in a position for a pass in the opposition’s final 3rd, or able to restart the play if it breaks down, with having to go back to the defence.
When Coquelin and Ramsey plays, this simply does not happen. Ramsey’s starting position is often too high. And Coquelin does not have the ability to stay with the play when it moves into the final 3rd.
We will miss Ramsey in the next few games. Especially against the likes of Barcelona where you need some more legs. But in Elneny, we have a player who will act as a go between Coquelin in the defence and Ozil in the attacks, and it will make the middle of the park a lot more balanced.
Our play should now be a lot smoother, a lot more attacking.
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