Ramsey/Flamini Partnership the Flaw in Anfield Draw but Olly and Joel Shine once more

Arsene after Liverpool

When the final whistle blew on Monday, I experienced a mixed bag of emotions: disappointed we couldn’t hold on, angry at being completely overplayed in midfield, glad we escaped the game without injuries. However my overriding emotion was that of relief.

I was emotionally drained by full-time. Truth be told, I was emotionally drained after 30 minutes, but you get the idea. My nervous system is now officially a wreck and I feel like I’ve aged a couple of years after that game.

I imagine this game was thoroughly enjoyable for the casual observer, while BT, Sky or whoever aired the game in England probably experienced an orgasimic sense of joy, close to the one Klopp experienced when he found out his team can score goals. Joy of a big TV company realising what a great advert this game can make.

However as an Arsenal fan, I mostly derived pleasure from individual performances rather than our collective display. Let’s start with these performances and the overall bits I liked from the game.

The character

No, Brendan, not this kind of character. Go away.

Once in a while you get these crazy end-to-end games that are exceptionally fun to watch (unless you aren’t emotionally invested in the success of one of the teams). Think it stems from the performance of the players on the day, plus, possibly, from the managers getting their tactics wrong.

However, we pulled off a second come-back inside 4 days and nearly won this game too. In fact, we’ve come from behind twice and it speaks a lot about our desire and “never say die” attitude.

We were under the kosh for the first 20-30 minutes, it was clear we weren’t coping with Liverpool’s pressure and the goals (however lucky for Liverpool they might have been) were still the direct result of this pressure paying dividends. But the players didn’t give up, didn’t throw in the towel. They responded almost immediately every time we went behind. It will be hard for them to take a draw because of that, however fair it seemed in the overall context.

Olivier Giroud

Simply put, Giroud was outstanding on Wednesday. Yes, he also produced the miss of the season, but two goals and the overall display offset that. A million times.

His passing numbers were low, but then: a) his passing numbers are always low b) Arsenal’s passing accuracy as a team on the day was a meagre 71% – the lowest we had in a league game this season.

The best bit was his aerial prowess and the ability to lay the ball off for his teammates after plucking it out of the air. He only won 3 duels in the air out of 7, but one of these was crucial in the build-up to the first goal. Ollie, most literally, risked life and limb going for that ball and required lengthy treatment after clashing heads with Sakho – but he got the job done.

As for Giroud’s goals, well, the first was his usual showcasing of his trademark diagonal run to the near post with a neat finish to follow, but the second was a thing of beauty. Giroud took one touch to bring a deflected pass under control and then turned and smashed the ball powerfully into the corner, leaving Toure on the floor.


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I felt for the Frenchman in the end as much as for anyone else: Giroud showed grit to return after injury, he scored the equaliser and the near-winner, while also chipping in with a healthy defensive contribution, recovering the ball 6 times (twice in our half) and completing 4 tackles out of 7 attempted (though only one in our half).

Giroud was Man of the Match, hands down, however his impressive performance (recognised by even the Telegraph), raises a more important issue, namely: he can’t make way for Theo at centre-forward once Alexis returns. His contribution this season has been stellar and he deserves to keep his place in the starting XI.

Joel Campbell

The same can be said about Joel Campbell. The Costa-Rican had another brilliant outing, in stark contrast to Oxlade and Theo. He provided another assist, was pivotal in Giroud scoring the 3rd goal of the game and his industrious display speaks of a player whose talent is blossoming as a result of high confidence levels.

As I’ve already said, he is a player who brings balance to the side, We are going to need such players for the run-in. Alexis is explosive, but also erratic, Theo rarely makes an even contribution for the duration of the game (although this is partly related to him playing on the left, I suspect), while to Ramsey I’ll get in a bit.

So like Ollie up top, Campbell should keep his place based on what he showed this season.

Ramsey and Flamini

It’s fair to say this partnership hasn’t really clicked. I’ll get back to how I think the problem can be addressed anon, for now I’ll just talk why this partnership cost us the game. In my opinion, naturally. Feel free to disagree in the comment section below.

My first impression was that Flamini was awful, however, it turned out he wasn’t or, at least, the reasons for his under-par performance were less obvious.

In short, Flamini had an impeccable defensive performance, his passing aside. Here are his numbers:

  1. 9 ball recoveries (7 in our half, one inside the box)
  2. 3/3 tackles (2 inside the box)
  3. 2 interceptions (near halfway)
  4. 7/7 clearances
  5. 3/3 aerial duels (2 of these near the centre circle)
  6. 3 blocked shots (2 inside our box)
  7. 1 turnover, no unsuccessful touches
  8. No mistakes leading to shots/goals

So I dug deeper and came the following conclusion: Flamini’s downfall was a) his positioning (his heat map shows he mostly took up positions near our box – hilariously, even Kos played higher than Flamini) b) being let down by Ramsey.

And so that brings me to the second part of this two-fold problem: Aaron Ramsey. On the previous point I made – his average position was actually fine, where it should be, it’s just that Flamini played much deeper, creating a big gap in doing so.

The problem is, Ramsey was too erratic, turning the ball over 5 (!) times and playing almost like a forward. I don’t mean his position here – I mean his style of play. If I’m allowed to quote 7amkickoff here:

“The problem is that Ramsey plays like a forward and not like a box-to-box midfielder. He doesn’t pass as well as Cazorla and he doesn’t dribble as well. He doesn’t create for teammates and instead needs teammates to create for him. He also turns the ball over like a forward, shoots like a forward, and while he does tackle a lot he can’t make up for the loss of Coquelin in that regard because he doesn’t win significantly more tackles than Cazorla did.”

Here we are. Yes, Ramsey was positionally fine from first glance (Tim puts that into question in the “By the Numbers” section I linked you to above. Though I think he was talking more about the overall problem, not yesterday). he chipped in with tackles, blocks and stuff, he scored and assisted, yet his other shortcomings were exposed.

Something has to give in our midfield. Yesterday’s loss was as much down to Liverpool’s pressing as it was to our midfield balance. We were overrun and outplayed, while our inability to keep hold of the ball after going in front meant we would have been incredibly lucky to stay in front. We weren’t lucky.

Unfortunately, though we did finally announce Elneny’s signing (the Egyptian may even be available for selection vs Stoke). I doubt he’ll get thrown at the deep and or asked to do what Cazorla did by playing alongside Flamini. That means Ramsey will continue to start games centrally at until one of Wilshere/Cazorla return. Which won’t happen for another month at least.

This means we can only address the other part of the problem – Flamini. And I think that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to put someone more positionally disciplined than Ramsey (MUCH more), who will also be able to distribute the ball from deep (making up for Santi’s absence). Basically, we need a younger Mikel Arteta, because the current one clearly isn’t ready to play every three days.

Whether this man is Elneny (I hope) or Chambers doesn’t really matter. What matters is getting our balance in midfield right and that’s not going to happen with Flamini and Ramsey starting games together.


The aftermath

This draw, however disappointing it is, isn’t the end of the world. City also dropped points (at home to Everton), while Spurs lost (to Leicester, admittedly). It means we are level with Ranieri’s men on points, but maintain a 3-point gap to City and a 7-point one to Spurs.

Our next game takes place in just 2 days and our draw at Anfield means we now have to win at Britannia Stadium. That’s why I sincerely hope we’ll have registered Elneny and got back Alexis and Rosicky by then. However, it’s how Arsene approaches his midfield problem that may just decide the outcome.

Back with a preview


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6 Responses to Ramsey/Flamini Partnership the Flaw in Anfield Draw but Olly and Joel Shine once more

  1. Sodiq January 15, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    Wat a great post!!!

    • Alex January 15, 2016 at 11:51 am #

      Thank you!

  2. Manav January 15, 2016 at 11:17 am #

    If I remember right, then few days back Mertesacker took an oblique dig at Ramsey when he said that we needed to be more unselfish inside the box.
    One reason why i don’t like having Alexis and Aaron in the same team is that both players tend to ignore players in relatively better positions.

    • Alex January 15, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      Alexis can be forgiven, he is a forward and plays like one, but Ramsey should be less selfish, I agree. Don’t remember Mert saying something on the topic, though maybe it’s just me

  3. DEW January 15, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    It is a great post.

    Oxlade can also plays centrally, he can be outstanding player their if he is disciplined enough game after game. Chambers is also excellent option for DM. I think there are now options for Arsene except that they are not proven.

  4. Victor Thompson January 15, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    Hi Alex,

    Its amazing how different people see the same game differently.

    I don`t know if you read my article about Wenger tinkering but I have gone over it again and with respect, it still looks more accurate to me than this article.

    I can explain why Flamini`s figures look so good:

    1. He was forced into a last line of defence because Liverpool`s Blitzkreig overpowered our defence and he was constantly battling to keep us in the game. That is why all his work was at the rear of the defence. He did not have time to upholster our forwards.
    2, Ozil was redundant in the first half because we had little constructive play and no one to feed him the ball in midfield. Even the BT commentators remarked on the importance to the team Ozil is, but that he depended on getting the ball. I notice that you did not mention Ozil in your article. That is why. He did not do anything but neither did he make any gaffs. He just wasn`t there.
    3. Ramsey is not Coquelin and I have said that Eleney is not either. He is more like Ramsey. They do a different job than Coqelin, but thank god that Ramsey caused LIverpool to pause because until he scored the equaliser we were under the cosh. He brought us back when Theo & co had not. Joel Cambell linked with him to supply the pass which opened Liverpools` defence
    4. Meantime Flamini was beginning to produce stability at the back and Mertesecker and Kos were getting accustomed to the speed of the game. The work Flamini did was unheralded but vital to give our defence time to get back in the game.

    After the interval we were more like our usual selves and we were patently the better team. When we went in front we were comfortably outplaying Liverpool and we forced Klopp to make changes. Arsene reacted by taking Ozil off at a time when he had just begun to put things together and Ramsey was still dangerous. Giroud had found his feet and we looked like we might score again. Wenger then brought Gibbs and Arteta on and our threat was completely obliterated. Once more we were fighting a rearguard action because Liverpool had become emboldened by the lack of a threat from our forward line. Henderson in particular was released from defensive duties and he supplied ammunition for Benteke and Caulker.

    I was a great fan of Arteta when he was in his prime and he is a role model for young players but it is clear that his time is past. I do not understand your admiration for him now. Of course he will play when he is asked; so I don`t blame him as much as I do Wenger. He does not contribute anything anymore. He was never blessed with speed but he had a great brain which made up for that. Unfortunately he is so slow now that he mis-times many of his tackles and gives free kicks away. I think he knows that himself because he has started to occupy vacant spaces on the field where he wont have to commit himself and tries to rely simply on link up play. That is not good enough and it is certainly not what we want when we are under the cosh.

    Despite my criticism of Wenger, I accept that at the point in the game when we were in front he had produced a determined and skilful team which earned credit for themselves and for the manager who produced it, but in the last 10 minutes of a match in which they fought so hard to stay in it at the beginning and then to take the lead, he made decisions which were wrong and he cost them their victory. If you still have the recording of the match, Alex, I would invite you to look at it again. I think you will find that I am right.

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