Friday, 6 December 2013

The Ramsey Revolution

Aaron Ramsey was a figure of ridicule among most Arsenal fans, not just Piers Morgan, last season. He looked inadequate, out of his depth and really not worthy of a place at such an illustrious club, let alone in the starting line-up. His turnaround from a liability into one of the best midfield players in Europe at this time has been remarkable and he's certainly won the fans over too.

Arsenal fan and complete tool Morgan wasn't the only who felt this way

It's hard to think of a more complete midfield player anywhere in the world right now, let alone in the Premier League. Most teams nowadays adopt a three man central midfield in some form. This mostly involves the use of two or three different types of players: Ball winners like Fernandinho, Lucas or Flamini. Deep-lying playmakers like Carrick and Arteta or advanced playmakers like Kagawa and Ozil. Arsenal already have one of each so in a sense Ramsey is a luxury for them. He's a box-to-box midfielder. He successfully ticks all three boxes in terms of defending, creating and attacking with no let up in his game whatsoever.
It is rare to see such an effective all-rounder but Ramsey it seems can do everything, and do it better than anyone right now. The only example of anyone anywhere close to his type of game has been Yaya Toure over the past few seasons, whose defensive contribution is letting him down this season when it comes to debating the best 'box-to-box' midfielder in the league. Toure is paired with Fernandinho in the Man City midfield who has been a defensive workhorse for them this year, giving Toure more freedom to attack. This has on occasion caused him to neglect his defensive responsibilities and City have payed the price with four away defeats already.

Ramsey's versatility is another of his biggest strengths. Out of Arsenal's five midfield roles he has played everywhere but the left side. I've no doubt he could play there too. He's deputised for both Flamini and Arteta in their customary roles in the middle, played a central role further up the pitch and played wide on the right too in the absence of Theo Walcott. Ramsey's versatility is such that it's hard to predict where he would start in Arsene Wenger's strongest XI.

Take a look at Ramsey's heat map from Arsenal's 3-0 win over Cardiff. Ramsey scored twice in this game but as you can see from the map, also did a considerable amount of work back in his own half of the pitch. Here he was supposedly playing a defensive midfield role alongside Mikel Arteta, the role Flamini normally plays.

Ramsey Heat Map vs Cardiff (A)
To give you an idea of how effective he is, shown below are heat maps from six days before this game for Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini when Manchester United faced the same Cardiff side at the same ground.

Cleverley Heat Map vs Cardiff (A)
Fellaini Heat Map vs Cardiff (A)

Even superimposing the two United players would not add up to what Ramsey contributed, showing that having him in the side is effectively like having at least one extra player, he covers so much ground during a game.

Aaron Ramsey has completed more tackles than anyone in the Premier League this season, slightly more than Lucas Levia and Morgan Scheneiderlin, both primarily defensive midfielders. Ramsey also has 8 goals to his name in the Premier League, 13 in all competitions as Arsenal look set to emerge from the Champions League group stage. His contribution at both ends of the pitch is vital.

He can win the ball, evidently, and can pass extremely well, currently boasting an 85% success rate. These aren't just 5 yards sideways passes either, which can often manipulate stats, he's always looking to move the ball forward and create chances. He's created more chances than anyone other than Ozil in that Arsenal side and is second to him only in key passing stats too. Ozil is the assist king. He doesn't do much else other than fashion out chances for other players. Ramsey can do that well too, but excels pretty much everywhere he turns his attention.

Winner in Dortmund was a personal highlight

They may have spent £42million on Ozil this summer but Ramsey's revolution has been the biggest difference between this season and last for the Gunners. He's been directly involved in 13 of Arsenal's 29 Premier League goals this season, a much higher contribution than anyone else in the side. While Ozil is Arsenal's primary creator, Ramsey runs him close in terms of assits (currently 6 to 5). From a defensive standpoint, Ramsey is averaging 4.5 tackles per game, three times what Mathieu Flamini, the ball winning midfielder is currently managing. Ozil may be the glamour signing Arsenal fans had craved for years, but Ramsey has become the dominant midfielder they so desperately needed.

People seem to not regard Arsenal as genuine title contenders yet despite them being 4 points clear and the only side showing any sort of consistency at all this season. Ramsey's consistent performances suggest this is more than just a phase and Arsenal are very much in this for the long run. He's the most important player for them right now. Without him, they'd probably still be in the hunt for the title and definitely in the top 4 this season. With him, they are firm titles favourites in my eyes.

Ramsey stats: Comparison with last year.

Per Game 2012/13 2013/14
Goals 0.03 0.6
Assists 0.06 0.42
Shots 1.3 2.6
Key Passes 1.3 1.5
Dribbles 0.9 1.6
Tackles 2 4.4
Interceptions 1.2 0.9
Average Passes 53.7 73.4
Pass Success 88% 86%

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