Arsenal’s 45-60 minute shame

Adrian Clarke’s tactical breakdown of the Arsenal loss to Stoke did an excellent job picking over the corpse of the match. Clarke criticized Ramsey’s positioning, took time to show how Arsenal’s defense could have done better, and dropped a bit of a bombshell stat about Arsenal conceding goals right after second half kickoffs.

I only mention Clarke’s discussion about Ramsey’s positioning because it mirrors my own which I felt like I took unnecessary flack for on Twitter. Twice Clarke mentions the center midfield and how it needs to operate much more tightly – with Ramsey going forward into the striker role, Arsenal’s midfield is far too open and that allowed Stoke players to march at Arsenal’s goal unimpeded.

“In general, I’d say the Ramsey-Xhaka central midfield axis wasn’t compact enough. They played a little too far apart meaning that Stoke found it easy to march through holes. And when this happened on transitions, they got into some great areas – running at the back three.”

Clarke also pointed out how Ramsey will have “wished” he was in the engine room rather than the most forward player on the field when Stoke scored.

Adrian also took time to show how Arsenal’s defense was deserving of criticism, something I hadn’t noticed in the match or after in the replays. But Clarke uses video to show how time and again Arsenal’s defense were not taking responsibility but again mostly laid the blame on the midfield, saying that a “depleted” defense could have been afforded more protection.

But the bombshell revelation is that since last season, Arsenal have now conceded 16 goals in the 15 minute period after half time – 14 last season and 2 this season. That 14 goals conceded last season was second worst in the Premier League behind Watford.

This shows a lack of concentration by Arsenal coming into the second half of games.

If you get 5 minutes today, have a look at the Breakdown on



  1. Even after all the back 3 success theories.. I believe Arsenal need a 3rd midfielder who can tackle and drop back for defense at times. Formation on paper can be anything (3-4-2-1 or 4-3-2-1) but this is the only way Xhaka-Ramsey combo will ever work! At the moment we don’t have a defender who can step up to join midfield. We need a physical presences in the likes of Wanyama/Matic/Bakayoko. Hate all of them but that’s what we need! I wouldn’t mind giving Coquelin a try here. Gives Rambo freedom to go front, Xhaka the playmaker and Coq to do the dirty job in midfield beside him. Best scenario is stronger version of Coq.

    1. Not a bad shout. I think Bielik could be that guy in the long term, but doesn’t look like Arsene thinks he’s ready for the first team.

      1. Bielik will never make it with Wenger has manager. It’s clear he has no time to coach young players any more. He throws them into the deep end of the pool and if they swim, great, if not then he leaves them to metaphorically drown (loan spells, prolonged periods in the reserves, eventual sale or contract run out). This template obviously doesn’t work and a lot of very very good players get lost and damaged this way. Bielik, Chambers, Akpom and others will never make the first team with Wenger in charge.

    2. Agree that we need this 3rd midfielder. But since Ramsey does not have the incisiveness of Cazorla, this third midfielder needs to have some ball skills to go with defensive ability. Think Moussa Dembele, I think.

      1. yeah, Dembele is exactly who we need, but of course he’s never coming to us and is on the older side anyway.

    3. Ramsey offers one quality – “a runner from mid field”.
      He offers
      – minimum key passes in the final third
      – erratic finishing
      – no dribbling ability

      We don’t need a third mid fielder, we need a proper mid fielder.

      I am in no way scapegoating Ramsey for the Arsenal loss; Welbeck, Xhaka, Bellerin all had a terrible game. Ramsey although, seems out of position which causes a lot of panic for others around who run trying to cover eventually causing more chaos.

  2. I don’t think you need to look for A. Clarke for affirmation of your observation, Tim.
    Your previous post nailed it on all fronts.

    Having the two midfield partners so far apart on the pitch in a build up in a scoreless game, in the opening minutes of the second half is highly irregular to say the least.
    I can’t think of any other mid field pairing in football where one player would be in the position Ramsey took up on that play.

    Would Matic or Kante in a Conte’s last season’s set up dare do that? Hell no! Conte would pull his transplanted hair out on the sidelines at the site of it.
    Any other pairing on any other seriously drilled team with championship ambitions? No again.

    But that’s the point really. Arsenal are not a club with Championship ambitions from top to bottom, are they.

    1. Yes. No extra validation needed here at all.

      Like other posters I was a little surprised when Tim made some sweeping negative generalizations but that Ramsey argument is impossible to argue against. He is abandoning his midfield duties consistently 🙁

      Which is acceptable if he at-least produces more but he does not do that too!
      It looks like, this one correction could go a long way into making us a much more balanced team. Ramsey can tackle and intercept as he has shown before. AW just has to correct him. Hope AW takes notice fiiiiiinally!

  3. I think the only outcome that will possibly keep me going is that we receive several offers that the board decide we cannot refuse. Say Alexis, Ox and maybe even Theo. This generates a bit of a pot and as a sop to Wenger he is allowed to have another trolley dash.

    Not sure we will get what we want but some new faces and their desire may just be beneficial. Overall, will force some change and at the moment any change is better than what we have at the moment.

    1. I can easily see Ox and Theo be replaced by players from trolley dash purchase, but Alexis? I rather we have him now and leave on a free. It’s already too late for us to sell him. Should have buy Lemar when we have the chance or rather from my wishlist, Emil Forsberg. He is what people think Draxler is or even Ozil was.

  4. Clarke’s videos are regularly excellent, especially considering he has to make them a) short, and b) not too critical for the official club website. Glad he affirmed your obviously correct view, Tim.

  5. It’s what happened when you give total freedom to players. Although it create us a goal at Leicester, there’s no way that any other manager would let Kolasinac, a LCB, to bomb forward constantly. There’s a reason our team play lack organization, because there’s probably never any instruction on organization from the manager.

    Honestly, Ramsey doesn’t belong in the central midfield. I could see him as back up to Ozil or like Giroud, a plan B option from the bench. Speaking of those inside forwards that the like of Ozil and Welbeck took, i don’t get why Nelson didn’t play there. I rather watch him play there then Welbeck. Let Welbeck and Giroud compete for the central striker position, don’t shoehorning somebody that isn’t really capable to have that role. For me, the inside forwards competition should be between Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey and Nelson. No longer should we consider Ramsey as a CM ever again.

    On the CM position, i can’t believe I’m saying this but the only viable option for Xhaka, if we don’t buy another midfield is probably Coquelin. That is if he can stay put and not roaming and tackling like a mad man, just like Xhaka did in the Stoke match. The problem though, is both Xhaka and Coquelin is a delicious target for pressing team, like Liverpool, and we need both winger and inside forwards available for a pass, and that could only be achieve by playing Kolasinac, Bellerin, Alexis/Nelson, and Ozil there.

    1. That’s another good observation. All teams know Arsenal get flustered when pressured. In both of the opening matches, Xhaka has misplaced short passes leading to conceding goals when pressured.

      I am guessing Liverpool will go all out with a pressing formation whereby their mid field trio pressure Xhaka/Ramsey/Coquelin whoever plays into giving up possession.

  6. – We need a dmf .
    – wenger shoud put the the players in their positions .
    -The players should :
    * improve some basic ( shooting / 1 one 1 defending ) .
    * improve or understand what are their roles by watching a lor of games and analysing their mistakes after matches .

  7. Tim, love your work massively and this is my favourite Arsenal blog. But whatever beatdown you got on twitter over Ramsey was probably deserved. Most of the column inches here since the match has been about Ramsey. I will settle for the word “disproportionate.” It’s a bit too much of a focus on a single player, and I don’t think, proportionately, it’s a fair one on your part. Man, you really don’t like the guy.

    We seem to give Xhaka a pass, and unintentionally wind up making a curious argument. Xhaka can’t defend that well, so rather than put the spotlight on that, we want Ramsey to not play the game, the role, he is CLEARLY identified to play — a role that got us game-changing goals in our last two competitive matches. Without Ramsey, we’d be without a point after two games. Jeez, why was he in the Leicester box to receive (and marvellously control and convert) that Xhaka pass, instead of being back covering Xhaka, who was also forward, in the event of a Leicester counter? See what I did there?

    Look, I used to dislike young Ramsey. He thought he was Cesc MkII, and would usually go for the Hollywood ball. He has simplified and uncomplicated his game, though I’ll admit that he and Xhaka may not be ideal partners for each other. The frustrating thing as well is that the guy does his share of D, as your own numbers in the past has shown.

    Overall, we can expect more results like this, Ramsey or not, because while Arsenal are a decent team built for domestic cup runs, we do not have the consistency, personnel, management and coaching structure or mentality to be a championship winning one. There are too many middling players, and some are consistently being played out of position.

    I don’t get the fuss over Ox, for example. I don’t see much beyond a kick and rush player. Gnabry (who has lost his way a little) is a much more accomplished player. In the middle of the park, Xhaka and Ramsey need better cometition that Coquelin and Elneny. We need someone good enough to give Arsene a selectio headache about which two out the 3. The over-focus on Ramsey on these threads is puzzling. We did not drop 3 points because of him. Our problems runs very much deeper.

    1. There’s a balance that needs to struck. Yes, against Leicester he tied the game. And yes, his positioning against Stoke played significant role in giving up a goal and the loss against Stoke. Both are true. I would point out that Ramsey was a substitute brought on to salvage a losing position against Leicester. A higher risk, more attacking approach was forced upon us by previous poor defending. The point is that I and others believe that Wenger’s use of Ramsey will, over a season, give up more goals than the goals we score. No matter the increase in goals scored, out all important goal DIFFERENCE will decrease. Especially given the fact that Aaron is historically such a poor finished.

    2. That’s well said.

      Maybe Xhaka’s mistake wouldn’t have been so costly had Ramsey been there, but that’s a big maybe, and doesn’t excuse what Xhaka did, nor what the defenders did.

      I agree with many others that Ramsey is not being positioned well in the team, or more generally, perhaps, that the center of our midfield has problems in its set-up, personnel, and tactics, but that’s down to the manager.

      We lost the game because we have a porous midfield, lacked adequate defensive nous in our own third, and because we were toothless and wasteful in attack. The disproportionate focus on Ramsey is a bit unfair, in my opinion.

    3. I like Xhaka, btw. If you dont get in his face, he’ll long range pass you to death. And he does something that we the fans love — he takes shots from distance. He’s our Andrea Pirlo. But unlike Pirlo’s, this is a more aggressive league, and opposition players get in your face, more often than not. And so he needs to ally his game with defensive security. He has to be his own minder some of the time, and he struggles there.

      Something weird went down with this transfer, to the point where I would question (probably unfairly early) if he was the fit that we had been looking for. Arsene Wenger introduced him to us as box to box midfielder. Did he even watch a tape? When he basically said in January that Xhaka was a terrible tackler (unheard of public criticism, even helpfully deconstructing why), I began to wonder whether he was an imposition from above, rather than a player Arsene really wanted. Never mind. Here we are, with superb player. For the Italian league. Still, I’d keep him. He and Ramsey both need competition. Is that Brazilian midfelder from PSG still available?

      1. Xhaka was one of the guys StatsDNA identified as the top “line breakers” in European football. If I remember he was up there with Özil, if not better. Basically, his passes often bypass the opposition midfield. This is also Mustafi’s strength.

        Recently Wenger has also been complaining that the stats boffins will select the teams in the future.

        I think there may be something to your theory.

    4. The Ramsey complaints have been going on for years. I am as guilty as anyone.

      But my question is as always – where is the manager on the touchline, screaming at his player to get back into position after the first couple times he’s made ill-advised runs up front? Where is the manager (or his proxies) coaching Xhaka on his defensive form and trying to bring up a weakness (tackling) to at least acceptable levels?

      It’s way way too laissez-faire from Wenger. This idea that players will sort it out themselves is, again, an abrogation of his duties as a manager of a top level club.

    5. Thanks Claude.

      First off, I was pretty harsh on Xhaka – stupid, brainless, foolish, being words I thought I used and I consciously mentioned Xhaka’s idiocy twice in that column – so I’m not sure how that equates to me giving Xhaka a pass.

      Second, I LOVE that ramsey makes runs in the box. On corners. Like he did against Leicester. I don’t love him taking up space for the forwards when Arsenal are in attack and build-up. I’m going to assume that you play football as i do every week. One of the basics of the game is space. You don’t want two players taking up the same space, especially in attack, this makes defending easier. You DO want people sprinting into unused space. Ramsey sprints into Lacazette’s space. He used to do it to Welbeck, Giroud, and Alexis. The reason this is a huge problem is because he’s not a finisher. Forwards like Lacazette finish at a much higher rate than midfielders like Ramsey. Maybe Ramsey will get 20 goals in a season, but I’d guess that he would need 200 shots to do that. Whereas you can expect about the same return from Lacazette on half as many shots.

      Third, I have said this many times (in the last article, in fact) but it bears repeating: Ramsey’s play is allowed/encouraged by Wenger. If you put Ramsey in a team like Chelsea, he would be a top top midfielder but he would almost never score goals. So it’s not Ramsey I’m angry with. He is only doing what Wenger is telling him to do. It’s Wenger, dude.

      Fourth, my column inches are legendary.

    6. Oh, and with Ox: Wenger is clearly trying to make his prophecy, that Ox is going to be the best player in the world, come true. I mean, why else shift 4 players to accommodate one?

    7. I guess I have one more!

      I think this team has the players to win the League. What we lack is the management. Again, I don’t blame Ramsey, this is Wenger.

    8. Yeah I agree with this.

      Ramsey’s play has bothered me for the last few years but Arsene clearly wants him to play this way. Blaming him for playing the game he’s being asked and encouraged to play is a bit unfair to him.

      1. On the Oxlade-Chamberlain thing, I think you’re right. He’s definitely taking or being given more responsibility. He took a free-kick when both him and Ozil were standing over the ball – that one should have led to a pre-assist if Ramsey had squared instead of shooting.

        And his chipped through-balls were of the very highest quality. The one he gave Welbeck was flawless, took out two defenders, and again should have led to a pre-assist but Welbeck shot instead of squaring the ball.

        He needs to make sure he stays connected to his teammates when dribbling and running, but he will explode if we become more cohesive and less wasteful in attack.

    9. The problem is, Ramsey is a terrible finisher. He scores them once in a while, but his numbers are awful. He’ll get into those positions, and miss badly. What use is that?

  8. “. Jeez, why was he in the Leicester box to receive (and marvellously control and convert) that Xhaka pass, instead of being back covering Xhaka, who was also forward, in the event of a Leicester counter? See what I did there?”

    Claude, I let you have the last word on this issue on the previous thread mainly because I normally respect your analysis and didn’t want to argue about something as trivial as Ramsey’s positioning on the pitch, which in a bigger scope is mostly irrelevant in how successful Arsenal might be in the league this season.

    But if you’re comparing the Leicester Ramsey goal , which happened in 83 minute when Arsenal needed two goals, to him taking an advance position in the Stoke game at nil nil with almost a full half to go, then I need to question your football acumen.

    Not only did we need two goals when Ramsy made his great run into the box on 83 minute, something I always agreed with btw( him making runs into the box to create mismatch) ,but also that play originated from the Arsenal corner taken by Ozil and when Xhaka delivered the ball , he was still covered by two Arsenal players closer to mid circle while all Leicester players were in front of him.

    How many players do you require to cover for Xhaka when all opponent players are in the box ? I’d say two should be enough.

    So for you to suggest that Ramsey might’ve abandoned his “cover for Xhaka “role is beyond silly.
    Now I know it was probably tongue in cheek but the two situations are so drastically different that even mere mentioning them in the same sentence should raise eyebrows.

    As for the ” most column inches” being dedicated to Ramsey, really?

    Most of my original post was about ref and just a mere mention of Ramsey’s position triggered your reaction.

    1. So he shouldn’t be making forward runs at nil-nil???! Breds, at nil-nil we still require goals.

      1. sure he can make runs forward when it’s a good idea. why, on that still image, is aaron ramsey ahead of even the arsenal center forwards? the situation on the field doesn’t legitimized his seemingly arbitrary run. arsenal, despite being the away team, were dominating the game. there was no need to take such a risk. he should allow the situation to develop and be more discriminant with his runs, understanding every time he goes forward, while he may create a favorable attacking overload, he also unbalances the midfield. he may also disrupt the space the strikers are trying to create.

      2. No, actually, he shouldn’t be making a forward run in the 46th minute. He should be contributing to team buildup, passing the ball to Ozil, and slowly moving the team forward. Not abandoning his midfield position so that he can live out some fantasy as a striker.

  9. claudeivan, i think you’re being a bit of a drama queen concerning your boy, ramsey. i don’t recall anyone blaming ramsey for the loss this weekend or even being at fault for the goal. most of that went to xhaka. there was an implication that the way he’s allowed to play will prove ineffective for a team with title aspirations. are you willing to argue the legitimacy of that point?

    just because his name is mentioned doesn’t mean anyone is blaming him. we all know how ramsey is and we all recognize that wenger enables ramsey’s style of play, which continually unbalances the midfield. there is no other midfield player that plays for a top team in the history of the game that plays like ramsey plays. bottom line, i’d rather have arsenal’s £50 million player, who’s a proven goal scorer finishing chances created by their £5 million welshman who’s not proven.

    1. I’ve been called a drama queen before, in fairness, so no problems. And there’s no truth to rumours that my bedroom walls are plastered with Ramsey posters.

      I think the balance of the post-game comments has tilted heavily Ramsey, which is ridiculous on the evidence of the game itself. Have a read again. That’s not to say that the observations are completely groundless. It’s a question of degree. It is wrong that more of the focus is on Ramsey than on Xhaka, Monreal or Mustafi, the 3 players most culpable for the goal. Would he have stopped it if he was playing in Xkaha’s shadow? Perhaps. He’d have had to be awfully close to him. His bodyguard, like. That’s not his role.

      Seems to me like a case of have meme, hammer to death. Whatever the actual circumstances of the game.

      I was watching a game last season while following a discussion thread on a Gooner facebook group, and there was a bloke there slagging off Ramsey every couple of minutes all game. Even as he did something good. Even when Ozil coughed up the ball and failed to track back. It was unbelievable.

      I think Ramsey has flaws in his game, one of which is incisive passing. But he has a VERY clear role in the team, to supply goals, runs and attacking threat from midfield. I think it’s silly to criticise him for attacking. F***, someone has to, because we’re not going to get much out of our left sided attacker, a certain Mr Welbeck.

      I used to see Ramsey getting verbally abused by our own fans when he thought he was a (bad) playmaker. On Saturday, I watched him get terrible abuse from Stoke fans for having the audacity to get his leg broken. The point that he has not reproduced his form of 3 or so years ago is fair, but it must be pointed out that he is routinely missing through injury for long stretches, so consistency is hard. He has not fully recovered from that shattered leg. He started to put together a decent run of form and fitness towards the end of last season, and that was correlated to our results.

      Every goal scored in football is the result of the opposition not playing optimal defence. So if you freeze or wind back the tape of every goal, you’re going to find something to criticise about someone’s positioning.

      And I’m gonna repeat it like a stuck record. Ramsey has scored what were arguably the two most important gaols in our last two competitive games. Risk and reward. He’s not going to get those from the back of midfield. Give the man a break (definitely no pun intended).

      1. I don’t think I have gone after Ramsey and I have criticized Xhaka heavily. As has Adrian Clarke. I don’t understand why this is bothering you so much. Xhaka is a fool, a dunderhead, a Dunning-Kruger, who can’t seem to tackle and who doesn’t seem to have a sense of when to even try to recover the ball. His defensive awareness is absurd and he is often just completely lost on defensive plays. He is quickly becoming the most expensive bust in Wenger’s tenure.

        There is also WAY too much space conceded in the midfield because, specifically, Ramsey doesn’t seem to have a handbrake. I think the team will be more successful going forward, will score more goals, and be less prone to getting scored on when we lose the ball if the midfield duo were much more focused on buildup and defense and the team were much more focused on getting the ball to Lacazette through Ozil.

        1. He may be becoming the most expensive bust, but only because he’s being asked to play a role that is not him. You don’t buy Pirlo and ask him to be Gattuso. Actually that’s incorrect. You don’t buy Pirlo and ask him to play without a Gattuso to speak of.

          Xhaka is very good at what he does. He finds a runner and executes that pass. He gives us the long option. This is useful to relieve the pressure, but especially so when you have a Santi who can break the lines or make the shorter passes. And it all needs a Gilberto, a Makelele, or a Gattuso to protect the back 3/4 when it all goes wrong.

          Wenger is trying to jazz it all up, but it’s all just cacophony at the moment.

        2. Points well made and taken, Tim. It wan’t directed at you per se. I was speaking generally, including responses. But I don’t want to beat this horse to death, so I’ll leave things here

          Good names you posit there. To that I would add Arturo Vidal, who is some player.

          BTW, read reports of Barcelona chasing Seri, and United chasing Lemar. Neither would sit well with our fans if they got them.

  10. I agree with Tim and Joshuad that Ramsey should not be taking the most shots because he is not a top finisher. I looked at replays (on Arsenalist) of the goal and thought “Where in the world is Ramsey?” Certainly if he’d been in midfield Xhaka might have had a better option. Though when I rewatched the second half it looks more like the team playing Total Football, i.e., changing places as opportunities present themselves, than Ramsey trying to Hollywood it again.

    The play starts when Ramsey wins the header off of the Stoke goal kick, he tries to lay it off and starts running forward, but no one is there. Xhaka watches it bounce electing not to challenge. A Stoke player steps to collect the ball, Welbeck who was forward comes back to press the Stoke player, who takes a touch toward the sideline. Ramsey steps to him and the Stoke player is forced to kick it toward our goal, the pass is picked off by Kola. Welbeck has continued back tracking to follow the pass in case it is completed. Ramsey then starts breaking forward into the space vacated by Welbeck, presumably in hopes that Kola will play a ball into the open space ahead of him. Instead Kola plays it short to Xhaka, who dribbles toward the right in midfield, away from Ramsey. Ramsey moves up to the Stoke right back’s shoulder waiting for a ball to be played into space. Nothing doing, Xhaka takes a couple touches then tries to pass to Ozil but mis-hits it.

    In this setting I can’t really blame Ramsey. I think he is aggressive and goal hungry, but the space was open. You want someone to run into it. Absent our best attacker of last season, you could see why Wenger would urge Ramsey to step up.

    Maybe Wenger is trying to invent the midfield striker role. If so, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks, to try to find a sliver of advantage that will let us finish ahead of the big two whose net spend is 3-5 times higher than ours. Maybe it won’t work, but I don’t think a league average manager, say Fat Sam, would win us the title. Maybe the area of innovation needs to be on defense rather than offense, certainly the overperformers in the CL of the past few years have been notable for their defense. But that is not Wenger’s way. He wants to find a way to win through innovative offense because that is his nature. While it is fair to criticize, I fail to see why that merits calling Wenger names.

    1. Inventing the midfield striker role. Haha. Come on. You can’t be serious. Yes Wenger is inventing the midfielder striker role for Ramsey. He is also inventing the centerback striker role and the wingback striker roles all at the same time.

  11. ‘He wants to find a way to win through innovative offense because that is his nature’
    That’s an innovative excuse

    1. Why do you think it’s an excuse?
      I think that it is Wenger’s philosophy to want to play attractive attacking football.
      He realizes there’s a resource disparity between Arsenal and the Oil teams.
      He has said he doesn’t think that the fan base will tolerate another project youth.
      His previous competitive advantages, nutrition/fitness and knowledge of the French league have been greatly diminished.
      They’ve tried deep statistical analysis, a mix of wins and losses.

      What else is he going to do besides try to innovate?

      1. I’m failing to see what innovation he’s demonstrating. Midfielders who bomb forward to join the attack is not an innovation by any stretch of the imagination.

  12. Lots of good comments especially about Ramsey. One thing I’ll point out is that before his horrific leg break, when Ramsey was just starting to nail down his position as a starter, he was very much ahead of the curve in that box-to-box role for a player his age. It’s only after we lost our fire power up front that Ramsey was encouraged to the join the attack and had his break out season. Since then, it seems he has been given specific instructions to join the attack as much as possible. After the leg-breaking incident, the mass exodus of good attacking players from our squad like Nasri, Cesc and RVP stinted his development as a true box to box mid fielder as we needed to throw bodies up front just to score a goal. Couple this with Wenger’s already kamikaze style of football and it’s not difficult to see how why Ramsey plays the way he plays.

    Lastly, I have no idea why Welbeck starts. I don’t care he works his ass off and wins balls for us in mid-field. The argument seems to be that the team looks ‘better’ with him. I don’t agree with that at all. I would rather we give Iwobi or even Nelson a chance there.

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