After wins against Olympiacos and Sunderland, Arsenal capped a great week with a very comfortable 2-0 win over bottom side Aston Villa. In the space of a week, Arsenal have gone from a team in crisis with the entire team in the hospital to a team that is through to the last 16 of the Champions League and, for at least a day, is top of the league.
The Gunners three game win streak has coincided with Aaron Ramsey returning to central midfield. The injuries to Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin has forced Arsene Wenger to shuffle around his midfield. This has pushed Ramsey from the wide position he was forced to play for the last six months back to his favored position in central midfield. The Welshman has been vocal about wanting to move back to the center and he has backed up his talk.
In the game against Aston Villa Ramsey showed everything he brings to the Arsenal midfield that Santi Cazorla does not in one counter attack. The Welshman won the ball off Idrissa Gueye in Arsenal’s defensive third and only 13 seconds later he was at the other end of the pitch tapping the ball into an empty net to give Arsenal a 2-0 lead. Granted some hilarious Aston Villa defending helped this goal happen, but Ramsey making the tackle then getting up, making the forward run at the defense, and being there to tap in a goal is exactly what he brings to the team that Cazorla does not.
For as good as Cazorla is at controlling the play and in transitions from defense to attack, he brings very little to no goal threat. He is yet to score for Arsenal this season and of his seven Premier League goals last season only one was from open play. Even that goal came while he was playing in a more advanced role as a number 10.
In the three games since coming back in as a central midfielder, Ramsey has scored two goals and assisted two more. Prior to those three games, he had one goal and no assists in 13 starts out on the right. While he did not necessarily play badly on the right, Ramsey is allowed to influence the game much more when he is central. In his three games central, he has averaged 82 completed passes per game.
Arsene Wenger played Aaron Ramsey on the right because he thought it could help balance the team and in a way it did. Ramsey acted as a good foil for Alexis as someone that keeps the ball well, could tuck in and provide extra support for the Coquelin-Cazorla midfield pairing if needed, while he was still allowed to get forward and try to get into dangerous positions. It wasn’t necessarily bad for the team, but it did restrict Ramsey as an individual and put added pressure on the front four to score the goals, as none would come from the midfield two.
As currently constructed, this Arsenal midfield is far from a long term fix. There are plenty of problems with a Flamini-Ramsey midfield, specifically how open it is and its vulnerability to counter attacks. It should not be a pairing any longer than it has to be, but it has given Ramsey the chance to remind everyone of what he brings as a central midfielder and why it is crucial Arsene Wenger finds him a suitable partner, either internally or in the transfer market.