After the win against Tottenham there were some worries that Arsenal would travel to Burnley and drop points. Both Arsenal supporters and Spurs fans said “it would be just like Arsenal to beat Tottenham and go lose to Burnley.” But a funny thing transpired in the Burnley match that I’m not sure many people noticed: Arsenal beat the Clarets through superior conditioning more than anything else as the Burnley players ran themselves into the ground harassing and pressing Arsenal for 75 minutes before dropping off dramatically and conceding what was clearly a tired legs penalty in the final minute.
It’s no surprise to me that Ramsey was the one shoved over against Burnley, he’s Arsenal’s most fit player and makes 30 yard sprints constantly when he’s on the pitch. Those sprints do annoy stupid pundits like me who want more balance in the Arsenal midfield but even someone as mentally vacant as me has to admit that his late surging runs are hugely effective.
Over his career he’s been the architect of many late-game heroics because of those sprints and the freedom that Wenger encourages. Just checking his Whoscored.com stats I noted that he’s scored 15 goals and provided 13 assists in the last 15 minutes of games over his career – and that only counts EPL and UCL matches. In the FA Cup final he scored the 109th minute winner against Hull City and three years later he scored the 79th minute winner against Chelsea, again bringing home cup glory. Ramsey’s fitness is one of his many assets and by the evidence he knows exactly how to exploit it late in games.
Wenger has been criticized this week for pulling Lacazette off earlier than fans wanted. Again, I count myself among the silly pundits who want Lacazette to play every minute of every game but Wenger is sticking to a fitness regime in order to get the most out of this player rather than just running him into the ground. Asked about these subs Wenger responded simply,
“First of all I would like to say that in my job you sub strikers more than defenders, because they have to create, they have to provoke, they have to be incisive in every run. Secondly, I think he adapts physically to the Premier League and I’m very happy with the work he does for the team every time he is on the pitch, and thirdly I do that as well because I have other options on the bench who are fresh and can give us another variation in our attacks.”
Wenger has gotten his rotations and fitness regime spot on so far this season. Arsenal are heading into an insane December fixtures pile-up just as the team is hitting peak fitness. He’s used the Europa League to keep backup players and youth players fit and sharp. And he’s managed Laurent Koscielny’s chronic Achilles injury as well as he could. Arsene Wenger has long been criticized for his rotations, hammered for player injuries, and has been the subject of rumors about playing players “in the red zone”. But this season Arsenal only have one long-term injury and a full squad of players ready to play.
Which is a good thing because from December 2nd to the 29th Arsenal play 9 fixtures. In fact, starting tomorrow Arsenal basically play every three days until January 14th. That’s 14 matches in six weeks. This is the decisive period of Arsenal’s season. How well Arsenal play between now and January 14th will decide whether Arsenal are going to be a title challenger or whether they will drop out of the top four.
Wenger quote: https://www.arsenal.com/news/wenger-lacazette-man-city-and-title-race