Arsenal v. West Brom: naked shower tumbles

Good morning chums. I have a busy day ahead as we gear up for the start of fall quarter so here are a few thoughts before heading off to work.

Arsenal face West Bromwich Albion and that means Arsene faces the old enemy Tony Pulis. Did you know that Tony Pulis (allegedly¹) once headbutted James Beattie in the shower. The scuffle took place after Stoke lost to Arsenal 2-0. Pulis canceled Christmas and Beattie got upset, Pulis lost his towel, then his rag and both men then had a naked tumble in the shower. I imagine it like one of those Greek sculptures, except with Tony Pulis and James Beattie.

Anyway, that’s what you get when you play a Tony Pulis team: naked shower tumbles. Oh, and long balls, and corners, and big switches for headers. Super basic football but it works, he keeps teams from getting relegated. Interesting facts: Arsenal led the League in headed goals last season with 17 and West Brom were 2nd with 16. This season Arsenal have 3 goals from headers and Albion 2! Still, as a percentage of their total goals WBA scored 37% headers and Arsenal just 22%. But corners and set plays are still important for Arsenal, especially when Giroud and Özil play.

Still this shouldn’t be a tough match for Arsenal: Arsenal knows exactly what West Brom are going to do, so the answer is to start all the best players in their best positions (Özil, Alexis, Lacazette, Kolasinac, Koscielny, Ramsey, Xhaka, Bellerin) and play Rob Holding for his aerial ability (he’s excellent in the air) and the Arsenal should have more than enough to defeat perfidious Albion. Wenger will, naturally, play Giroud as RWB, Kolasinac as CB, Holding in LWB, Bellerin as striker, and keep Alexis, Lacazette, and Özil on the bench. Or something.

As for the starters, Wenger has publicly criticized Ramsey for something which I have been harping on for over a year:

Aaron had a disciplined performance, and that was absolutely vital for us. If he starts from a strong defensive position he can be dangerous against anybody. He has a huge influence going forward, we know that, and we know he can contribute to that. The strength in his game was of course his usual top-quality physicality, but he’s more focused on technical quality in his first touch and that makes him more dangerous.²”

Yes, if Arsenal play with two actual midfielders, playing like actual midfielders, it makes the team more solid both in attack and defense. Weird how that works for every team in England. I don’t think the three at the back changes anything. I don’t think three in the middle changes anything. I think that being positionally conservative in midfield changes things.

The new thing that fandits (combination of fan and pundit) want is three in midfield. The idea is a solid one: you get two players holding and one roving free. They can even play off each other, one makes a run, the other two stay back. The only problem with this theory is… Arsenal have too many players who don’t contribute to midfield defense. Let’s say you switch to a 352. That means you’re going to drop Ozil (or Alexis, I guess) into the midfield. Well, they already don’t contribute to the midfield defense and if you’re expecting either of them to be dropping back into a double-pivot then you’re not really utilizing them to their maximum efficiency! Do you want Ozil making tackles or key passes? He can’t do both. I actually don’t think he can tackle at all. So, that means Ramsey has to be more conservative. He can make some runs but not all the time and he certainly shouldn’t be camping in the 18 yard box, taking space away from Lacazette (and bringing an extra defender as well).

Fun fact:  Ramsey is a 9% career finisher, scoring 38 goals on 430 shots and Lacazette is a 22% finisher scoring 116 on 539 shots (source:, doesn’t include EFL cup, does include international duty, doesn’t include friendlies). If I was Wenger I would draw a huge slimer ghost on the chalkboard with like 40 hot dogs sticking out of his mouth and tell my team FEED LACAZETTE. If they get Lacazette 5 shots I bet Arsenal win this game.

Koscielny also said some stuff about the back five. I ignore all this talk. Like I said above, and which I have proven with at least three articles now, the formation isn’t the problem. Stop talking about formation bruh.

Let’s see… what else… uhhh, Wenger “poured cold water on cryotherapy”.

“No one knows because you have a lot of science. If you read the science, some have proved it works and some have proved it doesn’t work. The ones that prove it works are usually sponsored by the guys who say that it does. Is (cryotherapy) smoke and mirrors? Yes. Because at the end of the day, since I’ve been in the job, we have improved a lot the medical treatment. A lot. But, still, if you have a muscle problem, it takes 21 days. It took 21 days 30 years ago.

CRYOTHERAPHYLAUGHEMOJI. Ya, so if it’s bunk… why did Arsenal just put in a cryotherapy chamber and have all the Arsenal players photographed in their skivvies shivering?

And finally, Arsene Wenger has called for some kind of regulations on transfers and salaries. This was revealed on nearly the exact same day as Liverpool leaked.. I mean “emails were leaked”.. emails between Barcelona and Liverpool. The Liverpool emails showed that Barcelona offered Coutinho £20m a year in salary and offered his agent £10m if he could keep the transfer fee below £100m. The leaked emails were clearly not leaked by Liverpool even though they make Liverpool look fantastic because Liverpool said “no price will get Coutinho” and Liverpool desperately need to look good after buying Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for nearly £40m which was a huge gaffe in the transfer market.

As for Wenger’s call to cap, the only way I see this happening is if the EU steps in with regulations. Financial Fair Play never really had any teeth to it and it looks like PSG have just blown it a raspberry with the purchase of Neymar. The problem is that PSG and Man City are owned by countries. And not only countries but super-wealthy billionaires who need to diversify their portfolios. These billionaires dump their money into assets (players) and don’t really care if the return on their investments grows or if they get good value, they just need to get the money out of their country as a safeguard against instability in the region. If you did some kind of luxury tax, they would just pay it. If you try to cap their transfer spend at say, 40% of revenue, they would just sell players to their own domestic league for huge profits, or dump more money into the club through advertising their country’s airlines. And I don’t know if you can cap salaries. Because the workers have a right to earn as much as they can.

Arsenal need to pivot away from complaining about the lack of regulations and look at what’s selling like hotcakes: 18 year olds. The Arsenal Academy’s record has been woeful. Only two top quality players have made it out of the Arsenal Academy: Ashley Cole and Jack Wilshere. You could argue that Bellerin and Szczesny are top quality as well and I won’t fight you. But you have to have more than 4 players in 20 years.

The other option is to pivot away from pretending that we are a title contender. Wenger’s Arsenal have been title contenders exactly twice in the last 12 years: 2007/08 and 2015/16. I’m ok with that and a few other trophies thrown in for fun. But I’d rather see Arsenal as a developmental team. We are never going to get relegated and we are unlikely to be able to spend enough to beat Man City: they spend more on their fullbacks than Arsenal spend on forwards. So, Arsenal need to move away from buying established players and toward being a developmental team. You want to attract Ousmane Dembele for £10m and then sell him on for £80m. Instead of complaining about the market, take advantage of the market.

Anyway, that should tide you over for a few days. I’ll be back here on Wednesday. If you need a fix, you can find me on Arseblog News doing the numbers later today/tomorrow.


¹According to the Telegraph, which takes as its source Peter Crouch on twitter.
²Via Arseblog News


  1. PSG is owned outright by a country that has an appalling human rights record and state sanctioned slavery, funds radical madrassas and has been proven to have won the 2022 World Cup on the back of bribes. It is beyond disgusting that they have $400 million dollars to spend on footballer but have spent almost nothing to aid their fellow Arabs in Syria.

    City can claim to be owned by a royal family investment fund but they come from a country where there is no such thing as personal wealth; citizens live on a stipend provided by the royal family. It’s all their money.

    How can you compete with countries? I would love to go back to the days when Roman Abramovitch was the problem with distorting the market.

    I hear you on the problem of PSG say selling it’s youth players to a club back in Qatar for whatever they need to cover their transfers. But I can’t concede that whatever we try is pointless. I stick to my idea that we should consider capping transfers + salaries at 70% of revenues, and that revenues be composed of match day ticket sales + tv revenues + competitions prize money + merchandise + transfer sales. No sponsorship money allowed because that is the piece impossible to police. Then if an owner wants to spend beyond his revenues the only way he could do so would be on infrastructure such as a stadium, training facilities or academy improvements.

    But I also agree with the point about giving up the title contender/pretender stance. We have the resources to become a super-Ajax, super-Dortmund, a team that develops premium talent while still being competitive. The market is a reflection of a basic supply-demand problem, too little top talent and too much demand for that talent. The demand will never go away. So let’s address the supply side. We should be producing 1 great first team player from the academy every year on average.

    1. Great points on all the messy economic issues, Tim and Jack both.

      As for formations, etc: Tim, you say three in midfield won’t help, but you only make that argument by considering the 3-5-2 (which, interestingly enough, we’ve looked like we’re playing at least some of the time with Welbeck and Ozil/Iwobi as the two “inside forwards”; less so with Alexis instead of Welbeck).

      But what about the 4-3-3? I’m in general agreement with you that formations are not some panacea, and the real issue is proper positional discipline and balance (between offense and defense, creativity and athleticism, etc) all over the pitch. But the argument for focusing on formations–not to the detriment of every other issue, but as an important piece of the puzzle–is then a simple one: certain formations give a team better balance than others (obviously it’s not one size fits all: what offers the best balance will likely depend on a squad’s personnel).

      We don’t have physically dominant, technically adept midfielders. But we have lots of above average midfielders, each with at least one particular strength in their skill set. In terms of defensive cover, we either need it from central defense or central midfield. With Gabriel gone, Mertesacker old and slow, Koscielny’s fitness needing to be constantly safeguarded, Chambers and Holding still very much learning their trade, and Monreal needed at least some of the time as cover at LWB, we are now in a position where (arguably) we have stronger CM personnel–certainly in terms of depth–than we do CB personnel. So we should play three of them, and only two CB’s. We can get the defensive solidity we need, while ensuring we’ve got an extra man (with on-the-ball skills our CB’s lack) further up the pitch to help us control the ball.

      As for wanting to keep both Ozil and Sanchez on the pitch but out of midfield, that’s easy: we play them both in a front three with Lacazette, and give all three lots of freedom to interchange positions.

      1. Having said that, the point about Ramsey needing to be more disciplined and conservative holds true, whether we play two or three in midfield.

    2. I like your ideas on measuring revenue.

      I’m not sure we could be a super Dortmund though. The reason being that we don’t have only City outspending us. There’s ManU and Chelsea leaving us 4th by some way. While we could be a developmental team I don’t think we’d be able to attract the best youngsters who would go to Dortmund or maybe Monaco where they have a chance of winning, or to any number of clubs in England who will still pay them well and where they probably get more guaranteed playing time.

      Arsenal’s problem is that they are stuck between the leading and lesser lights and doing things better than the lesser club will/can mean risking going backwards.

      The only way is to have players come through the academy in droves as you say, but even there getting kids good enough to finish at least 4th-6th to come through is not the same as bringing through players to finish 12th and hope one of them gets to be something special. Our stated goal at this point in time is to have 1 academy player join the first team every 2 years.

      On Arsene’s comments on the market, I think he said the rules restrict the legitimate clubs while the sponsored clubs can do what they please and as such the rules must change and be more clear, either way.

  2. “I don’t think the three at the back changes anything.”
    It does. Last season, when Arsenal played with a back four, you would look at the goals conceded and many of those goals showed the defense dealing with 2v2 or 3v3 situations (excluding the goalkeeper, of course). With the back three, the Gunners have numerical superiority at the back even when they concede goals. The Liverpool game is a good example of why the Gunners keep conceding goals despite their numerical superiority: they lose key duels and they have poor organization or positional play. Also, in the build-up, a back three makes it easier to evade a high press. Last season, Arsenal with a back four would often lose possession under pressure. With a back three, they cope better against a high press because the goalkeeper provides numerical superiority vs. a front three. With a back four, you need a mobile midfielder to drop back and help the centerbacks in the build-up, and Xhaka is not Cazorla unfortunately.

    1. i understand your stance but you’re not making a legitimate argument. for your argument to be legit, you need to express objective view points. all of your points are subjective.

      1. Thanks for the joke! All my points are based on facts. That’s the very opposite of subjective.
        Here are examples of goals Arsenal conceded with a back four this year: Bournemouth’s 3rd goal in January (3v3); Chelsea’s 1st goal in February (3v3); Liverpool’s 1st goal (3v3) and 3rd goal (4v4) in March. You can check them on And here are examples of goals Arsenal conceded with a back three this year: Chealsea’s only goal in the FA Cup final (3 Gunners vs. 2 Blues); Leicester’s 2nd goal (4 Gunners vs. 2 Tigers); Liverpool’s 1st and 2nd goals (4v3).
        Also, you can find examples of Arsenal struggling with a back four against a high press last season: Chelsea’s 3rd goal in February came from a Cech turnover and Bayern’s 5th goal in February came from an Oxlade-Chamberlain turnover. With a back three, the third centerback provides an extra passing option. That’s why the Gunners were not troubled by Chelsea’s high press in the goalless draw this month.

  3. Good call on midfield. Elneny starts, Ramsey’s further forward. Ozil on the bench, but that may be because he’s being eased in.

    Could be too that Wenger is sussing out what life after Olexis looks like.

  4. I watched the second half only which was a mature, defensively and positionally sound performance. The referee was inclined to give us favorable decisions which helped a lot (though I don’t think the penalty was controversial at all) but the team also showed good (I won’t give them great) awareness of dangerous situations, the ability to commit the odd tactical foul, and commitment to tracking back. There was still a dangerous penchant for over-elaboration on both sides of the pitch but in sum this looked like the same team that held Chelsea twice this year and not the dumpster fire Liverpool game that has been singed into my amygdala.

    I’d say we still don’t look fluent in attack but at least Lacazette is getting into a groove and Alexis Sanchez is playing football for us again. Those things alone should keep this group competitive, if not on the same level as Man City. I’ve been very critical of El-Neny but he continues to put in performances which make me think there is hope for him, and today was one such. He ran about a lot, as usual, but there was more purpose and intelligence to his running in this game, including in forward areas, where his runs from deep often lead to dangerous overloads. He’s also developed a knack for putting in dangerous balls from a deep central midfield position, and his shooting, though usually wayward, is still enough of a threat to command closing down, which leaves opportunities for others to run beyond him. In short, he has become a competent central midfield option for us, which is great news.

  5. Elneny was excellent. Not a huge fan, but again, hat-tip. One or two instances of not being strong enough in possession and shrugged off the ball, but he ran all evening and provided good defensive security. He’ll take some shifting.

    Xhaka hasn’t gotten going this season. He’s an elegant passer, but can (too easily for me) be pressed into error, and isn’t that defensively sound in position or in the tackle.

    Interesting posers for Wenger.

    Good win.

    1. If Elneny could add some actual physical strength to that slender frame (which hopefully would have the knock on effect of making him more assertive going in for tackles and 50-50’s as well), he would have the potential to be some player, a genuinely deserved starter for an elite level PL team. He’s clearly never going to have the silky skills of a Cazorla, but otherwise all aspects of his game are really solid, he’s intelligent and very hard working, and his energizer bunny stamina is an attribute that can set him apart from the crowd.
      But he’s been in England for two years and he still looks lightweight to me. Good squad player, still.

  6. I’m not sure how to react to Wenger’s public criticism of Ramsey. It makes no sense. Aaron’s been playing this way for four seasons now, progressively becoming more and more cavalier in abandoning his defensive duties. Am I to believe that Ramsey has NOT been playing as instructed and Arsene has simply tolerated his positional indiscipline until just now? What kind of manager allows a player that much leeway in his positioning to the detriment of the overall team play? Wenger has just now noticed something we’ve all noticed for several seasons? Or if Ramsey HAS been playing as instructed, why throw him under the bus? Either scenario is a very poor reflection of Wenger as a coach.

    As for the game, we played decently enough overall to deserve the win while still making enough mistakes, especially in the first half, to have given up a couple of very poor goals. I do not like Mustafi in the middle of the three. I mistrust his decision making and he especially goes to ground too early and too easily. I said last season there’s a touch of Vermaelen about Mustafi, a defender who’s better with the ball than without and a loose cannon in defense, capable of the brilliant and the absurd. He’s done nothing for me to change that opinion. That foul in the box was just another stupid decision. to add to a catalogue of them. Koz should be in the middle.

    1. People who don’t like Ramsey will interpret that as criticism, but it’s a pretty innocuous comment/analysis from Wenger. It is NOTHING like his assessment of Xhaka’s abilities last January, which was quite extraordinary, and extraordinarily damning.

      Ramsey has been our most effective player so far this season. I don’t have all the stats, but I don’t think any other Arsenal player has been involved in as many key moments. He carried over his good form from the end of last season, He won us the penalty today, and could have won us the game against Chelsea. He was instrumental in us winning our last two trophies, including our last one in May. But you come to this forum, and you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s some brainless/headless chicken. It’s almost as if the dude can’t do anything right by some fans. I think he’s a victim of a pre-derermined narrative, that kicks in almost irrespective of how he actually plays on the day.

      Yeah, he can be better. His link play is good, but (as per Tim’s stats), I think he can still improve his finishing. I would say of Tim’s comparison to Lacazette, though, that comparing an attacking midfielder to an elite striker is incredibly misleading. Of course the MF won’t be as good. You can debate degrees, but the stats themselves are not surprising or, I suspect, unusual. You’d probably get the same thing if you compared Lukaku to, say, Pogba. Or Aguero to de Bruyne.

      I’d also like to see him bring some more incision to his passing. The team today lacked a creative lock-picker than that extra bit or cleverness, or a ferryer/dribbler of the ball.

      It looks like Wenger is preparing for post-Ozil future by trying Ramsey out as No.10 today. But his best position is further back, even if Im not convinced that his best partner is Xhaka. I think that Elneny should be given a run in the side, because Xhaka’s not in form at the moment and he’s defensively suspect.

      1. 1. On Elneny: definitely in better form than Xhaka, but however suspect the Swiss is defensively, I think Elneny is worse. He’s just not strong or aggressive enough to be the sole midfield anchor/shield, especially with a highly attack oriented player like Ramsey beside him. He’s good at harassing opponents in possession in concert with teammates, but not the guy you want to count on to make a key tackle to stop a counterattack or protect the “red zone” in front of his CB’s.
        2. You already know I think you see things through Ramsey-tinted spectacles, so to speak (though admittedly that attempted clever reworking of a common idiom makes almost no sense), so I’ll leave aside disagreeing with your assessment of him as our “most effective player this season” (not a high bar, even if it were true). But I have to agree with you, against TeeSong, that AW’s comments were completely innocuous, in fact, much more compliments about his recent form than criticisms! Still Tee’s questions about Wenger are good ones: why is Wenger only now (subtly, but clearly) encouraging Ramsey to focus on these aspects of his game in this way, when his offensive/selfish/sloppy tendencies have been indulged for about 4 years now?? For certain players, it seems Wenger has near infinite patience, and he really takes his laissez faire approach to frustrating extremes (I blame Wenger, not Ramsey, for this, just to be clear).

    2. On Mustafi, one could add: and he’s not even that great with the ball at his feet anyways!

      I’ve found the decision to put Mustafi in the middle and Kos on the right puzzling from the get go.

      1. It might have been on this blog but somewhere on the interweb a football statistician showed that Mustafi is very good at playing passes through the lines. I suspect that’s why he’s being played in the middle, to act as a deep lying playmaker. If that is indeed true, it would fit perfectly with Wenger’s willingness to sacrifice defensive solidity for attacking fluency.

        1. Yeah, agreed, I’m just not convinced Mustafi has done this passing consistently well since coming to Arsenal (think he has it in his locker, but he regularly wastes the ball with over-ambitious passes too), and I wouldn’t say his overall comfort on the ball is better than Kos’s.

          1. He does have pretty excellent close control and I think Tee’s Vermaelen comparison is a good one. Mind, I don’t view that negatively; Vermaelen had a penchant for closing down too aggressively that teams learned to exploit, but that could’ve been coached out of him. He was terrific “material” for a CB, but injuries killed his career. Wenger likes CB’s who can play with the ball as well as without it. He does have the ability to break the lines and that’s huge when facing a cohesive press or trying to break down a deep block. He fulfills a similar role to that of David Luiz for Chelsea, both stopper and distributor, though I don’t think he’s on that level (yet). I will say he is still young for a defender and he should be viewed as a player with developmental upside.

      2. i think the reason mustafi plays as the most central defender is that he’s probably more vocal than koscielny. i’ve never thought of our french defender as a leader but more of a role player. germans, by culture, are big-mouthed people so the decision to play a vocal mustafi more central instead of koscielny makes sense.

        as for mustafi’s ability to play the ball “through the lines”, i’ve heard that on a statistical analysis that tim’s done. however, the eye test tells me that this skill has failed to surface in the bpl. mustafi’s missed that attempted through the lines pass far too often. it’s more of a tactical problem than a technical one. i’m hoping he’d just stick to playing the ball wide or leaving the creative stuff to the midfielders.

    3. Ramsey is on another level technically compared to most PL midfielders. You can see his close control and first touch are outstanding; he also has an underrated burst of acceleration and can beat his man off the dribble, plus he has cultivated an outstanding appreciation for space and how to run into it, and is capable of putting in tackles and interceptions without the ball too. Added to that, he carries a goal threat whose runs must be tracked by the defenders, which pulls opposing teams out of shape and gives them all sorts of problems with our linkup play as a result. He’s a complete midfielder who is entering his prime and given uncertainties over Alexis and Ozil staying at the club, he figures to be one of the leading lights in 2018-19. I know Tim doesn’t like the idea of Ramsey as a #10, I’m still in favor of at least trying a 4-3-3 with Ramsey in an advanced central position flanked by two energetic and athletic shuttlers. I just love the idea of him being able to combine with the forwards and create overloads in forward areas at will or be able to drop deep to relieve pressure and outnumber a two man midfield.

      Having said that, he’s no good to the team, regardless of formation, when the team is under pressure and he is not in position to relieve that pressure by helping out his back line and his midfield partner. I think that’s the essence of what Wenger is saying and what many people on this forum have been saying about him and Jack Wilshere for many years now. Wenger’s famed reputation for allowing his players to “express” them selves is the double edged sword that both allows development into such fine technicians and what indulges positional indiscipline.

      1. Agree. I think Ramsey’s biggest problem has been his penchant for releasing too early, when we still have the ball in our half and before we’ve established good possession in the final third. I have no problem with him making late runs into the penalty area or when he’s busting a gut to support a quick counterattack as the third or fourth player. His other “problem” is more a tactical issue in that there’s not a well defined system of covering for the space he leaves by rotating another player.

        As for Mustafi, I agree that he’s promising, much like Vermaelen was promising and had the basic ingredients to become a good central defender. Problem was Wenger never properly coached Tomas’ bad habits out of him and I fear a similar fate for Mustafi. Sure with proper coaching and development, Mustafi good be very good. I have little confidence in Wenger providing that.

        1. Until that impetuousness and aggressiveness is properly tempered, I don’t think Mustafi should play in the middle. Koz is a much calmer presence in the middle of a three who can be counted on to make better decisions.

          1. Think back to the Pedro chance in the last game. I think Kos is there because he’s quicker and smarter. If he gets caught out playing offside or loses a header, and Mustafi is chasing Pedro I don’t think he has the speed and awareness to get there and if he does he probably just fouls him. Kos is covering for Bellerin’s runs and covering the channels. I think he’s better at it than Mustafi is currently and he can play a more aggressive defensive game knowing Nacho and Kos are on either side

      2. i don’t think ramsey is a superior technical midfielder nor do i think he can routinely beat his man off the dribble. i know when he drew the penalty, the shoulder dip helped him lose nyom but that’s more down to poor defending than ramsey being “at another level, technically”. players like david silva, kevin de brunye, paul pogba, eden hazard, wilian, coutinho, etc. all have superior technique and routinely beat guys dribbling. ramsey is not in that class. in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, per 90 minutes, francis coquelin has more successful dribbles than aaron ramsey. it’s not a bad thing. cesc fabregas and frank lampard don’t have a reputation as great dribblers but both have had their moments. ramsey had a moment yesterday.

        likewise, ramsey is not a #10. he’s had the chance to play that role for arsenal and has gotten it horribly wrong. in van persie’s last season, despite the dutchman scoring a boatload of goals, aaron ramsey contributed with like three goals and two assists all season long. you could argue that ramsey was so young back then and it would be legit but ramsey simply lacks the guile required to be a #10. ozil, alexis, lacazette, wilshere, and iwobi would all be better options in that #10 role. even claudivan admits that ramsey is better deeper in midfield and he’s the biggest ramsey fan around here.

        1. Ramsey got the entire Arsenal bench up on their feet in the Chelsea game. I don’t know about another planet but dribbling is one of his strengths. Like runs into the box are. He just tends to overdo things at times.

        2. I’m on Josh’s side on this one:
          I think Ramsey is genuinely a very talented player, and, paradoxically, his offensive skills are showcased best when attempting really difficult things, e.g. 40 yard left-footed volleys, clever flicks and tricks around the box, etc. On the other hand, the technical basics that are the groundwork for the intricacies involved in skillful, pass-and-move, (for lack of a better term) tiki-taka football have never really been his forte, especially in the years between 2013-14 and this season, during which time he was routinely shockingly sloppy with the ball (in my opinion, of course!).

          And as for “at another level, technically”!??! Hmm. This only makes sense in the way that most players for the big 6 are on another level compared to the average players at Watford, West Brom, Bournemouth, etc. This is not really a high compliment for an Arsenal player. But compared to other attacking midfielders at the big clubs–e.g. those that josh mentions, like Silva and De Bruyne–Ramsey falls far short in terms of technical polish. (I’m tempted to go on a long digression about the differences, in terms of what counts as “skill” and “technique”, between Continental and S. American players, on the one hand, and British players on the other, but I’ll spare you guys tonight.)

          Could Ramsey be a much better player in terms of technique? I think so, which is one reason I find him so frustrating. It’s interesting that, in addition to talking about the importance of Ramsey being more defensively balanced, Wenger talks up his work on his first touch, and focusing on his technical quality. This suggests AW also feels Ramsey has fallen short of what he could be on the technical side (I put this down to wanting to be like Lampard and Gerrard too much, rather than focusing on the technical basics of midfield play–let’s just say there’s a reason why England didn’t win diddly-squat with those two in their midfield). I’d love it if, in his mid 20’s, he finally starts to reach his potential on these aspects of his game, though I think the verdict’s still out. Some moments from the tail end of last season and the beginning of this one have been encouraging.

          Finally: a great dribbler or a true number 10?? I’m sorry, but I don’t see it at all, and as josh says, that’s not really a criticism.

          1. Josh and PFO, thanks for the comments. It sounds like you’re both over-interpreting what I said with phrasing like he’s a “great dribbler” or “routinely beats his man off the dribble.” I did not mean to imply that he was Eden Hazard, simply that he is capable of doing it, unlike, you know, Granit Xhaka. I think it’s an underrated part of his game. I do think he’s technically superior to most midfielders, not that he’s “on another planet.” He is not Xavi, but his first touch and close control are superb for a British player in particular. To me it’s quite obvious when I watch the games: I often confuse Ramsey and Ozil when I see them receive the ball or lay it off because they are both silky smooth. I don’t know why you’re both hung upon whether he is a “true #10” or not; what does that even mean anymore? He’s a midfielder with outstanding attacking instincts, so playing him in an advanced midfield role makes sense, even if he failed at that when he was younger. Blaise Matuidi is the blueprint for the type of role I’d like Ramsey to play.

          2. Doc,
            But Matuidi and Ozil are completely different sorts of players (I agree Ramsey and Matuidi are similar in some respects), and honestly, I don’t think of Ramsey as silky smooth in an Ozil-y kind of way at all! (Though, admittedly, Ramsey-when-full-of-confidence looks a good deal smoother than Ramsey-off-form, who looks downright uncoordinated and takes about 5 touches to turn!) This is not an argument, just an expression of what I see when I watch these footballers. Perhaps you’re right and I’m wrong, but I can only report what I see, and based on that, I wonder if we’re even watching the same players!

            Again, saying “he’s got good close control for a Brit,” is not much of a compliment. However–keeping in mind the caveat that Ramsey full of confidence (a la 2013-14) looks way better than he’s looked for most of his career thus far–here’s a list of British players of the last decade or so that’ve had a better first touch and close control than Ramsey (at least judged on actual regular performances, not on some hypothetical ideal of how well Ramsey actually could play):

            1. Jack Wilshere
            2. Alex Iwobi (Nigerian, but raised in England)
            3. Adam Lallana
            4. Raheem Sterling
            5. Dele Alli
            6. Gareth Bale
            7. Paul Scholes
            8. Ryan Giggs
            9. Wayne Rooney (when not playing crap)
            10. Daniel Sturridge
            11. Harry Kane
            12. Joe Cole
            13. Ross Barkley
            14. Steven Gerrard (who I think is one of the most overrated footballers in decades)
            15. Arguably the Ox
            16. Arguably Joe Allen
            17. Probably Fat Frank Lampard
            18. Aaron Lennon
            19. Stephen Ireland
            20. Jesse Lingard (ok, I might be trolling a little bit with this one)
            There are more, I’m sure, but I’m getting tired and my brain isn’t working well, so I’m to bed

          3. this is what you said, doc…

            “Ramsey is on another level technically compared to most PL midfielders. You can see his close control and first touch are outstanding; he also has an underrated burst of acceleration and can beat his man off the dribble”.

            i simply stated that ramsey is not on another level technically and his close control and first touch are not outstanding. likewise, while it might happen sometimes, ramsey is not a player that i would fancy to beat his man off the dribble. why? because he’s just not that good at it. i mentioned a list of players where were genuinely on another level, technically compared to most pl midfielders, had an outstanding close control and first touch, and that i would fancy to beat a man off the dribble. ramsey is not on that list. that doesn’t mean i think he’s a bad player.

            i also mentioned cesc and lampard as they were two players who’ve made plays beating opponents off the dribble but like ramsey, didn’t do it much because they weren’t that good at it.

            as for ramsey being a #10, the advanced cm in a 4-3-3, that was your gem. a #10 is a creative playmaker who facilitates the attack by creating chances for his team to score, sometimes from nothing. the ability to play as a #10 is a gift that i don’t think ramsey has. does that mean he can’t play? no, it’s just a bad idea to play him as a #10 if he can’t create chances for his team mates when arsenal has other players who can.

          4. PFO, I’ll be honest, that list does read rather like you’re trolling me. Can we just agree to disagree? And anyways, what sort of rubric are you using here? If we’re judging close control, maybe we can make a rational numbers based case instead.

            I would suggest something like’s “UnsTch” (they define it as bad control per game) but I’m not convinced this in and of itself tells the story; for example, Neymar has more of these at 3.4 than Edin Dzeko at 2.7 but I don’t think there is an argument to be had about which player has better control. Passing and dribbling stats are also tangentially related but again, not enough on their own. But, whoscored does tally a composite of dispossessions, turnovers and inaccurate passes into a category called “holding on to the ball” and have given Ramsey a rating of “Strong” in that category. I’d say that’s a pretty good indicator for who is good in possession and consequently probably has a very sure touch. Let’s scan some top midfielders and see if they’ve collected that same accolade.

            Paul Pogba: No
            David Silva: Yes
            Henrikh Mkhitaryan: No
            Kevin de Bruyne: No
            Fernandinho: Yes
            Nemanja Matic: No
            Christian Eriksen: Yes
            N’Golo Kante: No
            Emre Can: No
            Maruane Fellaini: No
            Dele Alli: No
            Mousa Dembele: Yes
            Juan Mata: Yes
            Ander Herrera: No
            Ilkay Gundogan: No

            So he’s in the company of Silva, Fernandinho, Eriksen, Mata and Dembele when it comes to ball retention. Not bad, I’d say.

            What about Arsenal? I scanned through the roster and only Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi also have a rating of Strong on “Holding on to the ball.”

          5. Josh, bud, if you simply repeat the same arguments you’ve already made, that doesn’t help advance the conversation. That just sounds like you’re trying to shout me down. Telling me “that won’t work” and then doing it again in all caps (figuratively) isn’t going to help me see your point.

  7. Agree with joshuad on Ramsey. I think he is an above average technical mid fielder, not someone who is technically on another level. His first touch isn’t always the best and neither is his close control. If his close control was so good, he wouldn’t give the ball away when pressed which is something he has done multiple times in the past. I think his technical skills are sufficient for the most part but his real value as a player is his engine and he can tackle aggressively if he is focused on the defensive side of his game. If he was consistently more aware from a tactical perspective, he would be one of the best mid-fielders in the EPL because that would cover up for the technical skills he does lack. I just don’t see him as a number 10 because he isn’t creative enough like Ozil, Cesc, Silva, DeBruyne etc and his shooting isn’t accurate enough (another technical skill where he could improve). However, I think he is one of the best all-rounded midfielders in the EPL. Unfortunately his game doesn’t reflect that and that’s down to coaching.

    We talk about Arsenal having too many specialists in mid-field. Ramsey is a glaring exception to this rule. His game against Chelsea should be the blue print for how he plays week in week out. If he could do that, he could be one of the best number 8s in the EPL. If he played in a team like Juventus, I would bet anyone my house that he would have developed into one of the best CMs in the world by now.

  8. Agree with joshuad on Ramsey. I think he is an above average technical mid fielder, not someone who is technically on another level. His first touch isn’t always the best and neither is his close control. If his close control was so good, he wouldn’t give the ball away when pressed which is something he has done multiple times in the past. I think his technical skills are sufficient for the most part but his real value as a player is his engine and he can tackle aggressively if he is focused on the defensive side of his game. If he was consistently more aware from a tactical perspective, he would be one of the best mid-fielders in the EPL because that would cover up for the technical skills he does lack. I just don’t see him as a number 10 because he isn’t creative enough like Ozil, Cesc, Silva, DeBruyne etc and his shooting isn’t accurate enough (another technical skill where he could improve). However, I think he is one of the best all-rounded midfielders in the EPL. Unfortunately his game doesn’t reflect that and that’s down to coaching.

    We talk about Arsenal having too many specialists in mid-field. Ramsey is a glaring exception to this rule. His game against Chelsea should be the blue print for how he plays week in week out. If he could do that, he could be one of the best number 8s in the EPL. If he played in a team like Juventus, I would bet anyone my house that he would have developed into one of the best CMs in the world by now.

  9. That was the plan and the blueprint that Arsene was following.

    Then he saw “Thanks for the memories, time to say good bye” poster.

  10. Tim, my comments aren’t getting posted for some reason. Wrote a long response to Doc and Josh’s comments on Ramsey yesterday and failed.. twice.

  11. Agree with joshuad on Ramsey. I think he is an above average technical mid fielder, not someone who is technically on another level. His first touch isn’t always the best and neither is his close control. If his close control was so good, he wouldn’t give the ball away when pressed which is something he has done multiple times in the past. I think his technical skills are sufficient for the most part but his real value as a player is his engine and he can tackle aggressively if he is focused on the defensive side of his game. If he was consistently more aware from a tactical perspective, he would be one of the best mid-fielders in the EPL because that would cover up for the technical skills he does lack. I just don’t see him as a number 10 because he isn’t creative enough like Ozil, Cesc, Silva, DeBruyne etc and his shooting isn’t accurate enough (another technical skill where he could improve). However, I think he is one of the best all-rounded midfielders in the EPL. Unfortunately his game doesn’t reflect that and that’s down to coaching.

    We talk about Arsenal having too many specialists in mid-field. Ramsey is a glaring exception to this rule. His game against Chelsea should be the blue print for how he plays week in week out. If he could do that, he could be one of the best number 8s in the EPL. If he played in a team like Juventus, I would bet anyone my house that he would have developed into one of the best mid-fielders in the world by now.

  12. Said it before, will say it again. With all the forensic (and sometimes tedious) over-analysis of Ramsey’s game and over-focus on a single player in an 11 man team, it seems to have escaped attention that Xhaka has, quietly, had a bad start to the season. Nearly every gooner I’ve talked to since the game, or gooner forum I monitor, is concerned about his form. He can hit sumptuous long passes but his short passing game has become nervy and error prone. He’s become a serial giver-away of the ball. And when he loses it, he does not have the recovery pace to win it back.

    I, like some other gooners have said in the past few days, feel that his place is under threat. I agree with PFo… Elneny isn’t the perfect solution, but I’m beginning to form the view that he may be a better accompaniment to Ramsey. It doesn’t make Xhaka a bad player… it’s that we have an oil and water midfield, and one is performing (Ramsey) and the other isn’t (Xhaka). Elneny’s distribution isn’t bad (and here is disagree with PFo) he provides significantly better defensive shielding than Xhaka. Owen Hargreaves, who co-commentated the game with awful Andy Townshend in my market, thought he was one of the most effective players on the pitch against West Brom. I agree.

    To Josh’s point, I don’t think Ramsey is a No.10 either — his passing isn’t incisive or clever enough… Ozil and even Wilshere are better there. And to Doc’s point I don’t think his technical level is exceptional either. He’s shown — especially against Chelsea — that he can play both sides of the deep midfield game (O and D). What he needs besides him is a player who can provide effective D along with his distribution. The team is better balanced.

    I like the understanding between Sanchez and Lacazette, and much as wish Welbeck well, I hope that that is the end of the non-scoring-defensive-striker experiment.

    Kosc back in the centre please, Arsene. Nacho left, Mustafi right in the three. Bellerin and Kolasinac flank Ramsey and Elneny, Ozil at 10, and Sanchez and Lacazette completete the starting XI. That’s our best team.

    1. It’s a good starting team, but I still think Xhaka gets in ahead of Elneny for me, and Ramsey only gets in as his partner if he plays in the disciplined manner he showed he’s capable of at Chelsea. Otherwise, it’s a straight shoot out between Elneny and the recently resurgent Wilshere.
      Ideally, at least for most games (PL games against the big clubs might be different), I’d return to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with one of Iwobi, Jack, or Elneny replacing one of our back three, but as long as we’re going 3-4-3, the above is what I’d do.

  13. Can we talk about the mythic #10 for a minute? What is a #10? Is it someone who creates goals? Under that definition, Sead Kolasinac has been our best “#10” with his 2 assists. Chances are he won’t continue to hold that lead throughout the season, but why not? Lots of good wide players lead their teams in assists. Remember Dani Alves? Was he a #10?

    Or maybe a #10 is someone who plays behind the striker. Well that should mean that N’Golo Kante and Nemaja Matic were co-#10’s for the champions Chelsea last year (and by the way their assists leader is one Cesar Azpilicueta on 4 dimes). I’m cherry picking here but you get my point. Teams don’t have a #10 because teams don’t need a #10. Who plays #10 for Man City? Real Madrid? Barcelona? Nobody! Football has moved beyond the classic playmaker. Those teams have lots of players who *could* fulfill that role or who *want* to fulfill that role but their coaches don’t set them up that way. They need a cohesive, competent attack force and the traditional number definitions that arose out of the WM formations of Chapman’s days are ancient history. Terms like FullBack, CentreHalf and even newer ideas like “winger” and “DM” should be consigned to the wastebasket of history. Modern teams are not about plugging players into sockets that generally fit their shape and size but about fielding a team that plays fast, energetic and technical football. Mesut Ozil is basically the last true #10 and he only gets to be because Wenger lets him. Any wonder there was so little interest in him this summer? It’s because of that. The traditional #10 is going extinct.

    So when I say Aaron Ramsey would make a great advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3, I’m not saying he’d make a great #10 because the advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3 is NOT a Juan Roman Riquelme style treqartista in this day and age. What makes a great modern midfield is a player with a great engine, great technique and great use of space and for me Ramsey is the best player we have in that category.

    1. Lol, Doc, a stat that tells us Ramsey has better close control than, e.g. Mkhitaryan and De Bruyne is what we philosophers would call a reductio ad absurdum of the contention that that stat is remotely accurate regarding who has good close control.

      1. In light of that embarrassing result, I’d say my eye test trumps your “rational numbers based” approach (as if non-quantifiable/quantified = non-rational–now there’s a questionable philosophical assertion!).

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