This is the sort of question that Arsene Wenger has had to answer ever since the rather fortunate but successful emergence of Francis Coquelin as Arsenal’s first-choice defensive midfielder. Over a difficult period in December 2014, with Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey all missing through injury, Arsene’s hand was forced in moving to recall Coquelin from his loan spell at Charlton Athletic; and after three substitute appearances he made his first start on New Years’ Day and hasn’t looked back since. In contrast, Ramsey returned from injury to find his regular spot in central midfield occupied by the unorthodox partnership of Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. The manager’s reluctance to change a winning formula and thus upset the delicate balance of the team thus meant Ramsey had to make do with a place wide right, and the same situation has persisted this season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other hand was forced to watch all this unfold as he had his own injury struggles to deal with, and as a result missed virtually the entire second half of last season. The Ox is now back, and a lot is expected of the pacey winger this season especially following his match-winning display in the Community Shield against Chelsea. Problem is he now faces competition from a central midfielder who is admittedly being forced to start the game from out wide in Aaron Ramsey, and as we have seen in the two league games we have played since, both players will likely get significant game time in this position depending on the opposition we face. Santi did start from the left when we played against Chelsea, but this might well have been the last time we see this, as the manager suggested in the aftermath of the 2-1 win over Crystal Palace:
“Cazorla is more important in the start of the game when the ball comes from our defenders, because he can pass from deep midfield to high midfield better than everybody and get out of pressure. That’s why I positioned him more central. He is not any more a player on the flanks who can overlap and cross the ball.”
So, having cleared that up, what can we expect from Ramsey or Oxlade-Chamberlain whenever they find themselves starting from the right?
As alluded to above, Oxlade-Chamberlain started the game against West Ham on the right, while Aaron Ramsey was picked for the same role against Crystal Palace on Sunday. While I understand that the opposition and the context of the two games were different, a lot can still be gleaned from the performances of the two.
|OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN vs WEST HAM||RAMSEY vs CRYSTAL PALACE|
|Shots (on target)||3 (0)||4 (2)|
An interpretation of the above stats tells you all you need to know about each player’s performance from wide. Oxlade-Chamberlain is the most natural winger in our current squad and it shows here. His direct style, with nine successful dribbles against West Ham, illustrates the penetration he affords the team from wide areas. Dimitri Payet was particularly culpable here as the Ox dribbled past him four times. Most of the Ox’s touches, all nine of his dribbles and all three chances he created came from wide right, meaning he stuck to his role playing on wide. This is actually refreshing as basically everyone else in the team wants to play in the middle, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck included. And the irony of it all is that Arsene Wenger has gone on record on several occasions insisting that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future is in central midfield! But that is another subject!!
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Ramsey on the other hand, as we have all probably noticed, does start from the right but most of his work comes in central areas as he drifts in-field looking to profit from the pockets of space in between the opposition’s defensive lines. Of his four chances created against Palace, two were to the right of the penalty area while two were on the left. A couple of his attempts were from the left, and his touches were all over the pitch as he looked to link up play with the likes of Santi, Ozil and Giroud. This is further illustrated by the number of passes he attempts (34 more than Oxlade-Chamberlain) although his passing accuracy of 77% was rather poor. The Welshman provided the numbers in the box whenever the opportunity presented itself, and particularly looked to offer support to Giroud and Ozil in the final third. Ramsey did reveal that this was something that he and Arsene Wenger had agreed on prior to the game, saying:
“It was the manager’s decision and he tweaked things. He told me to try and get in between the lines, not stay outside, to come inside and I thought I did that by getting into some dangerous positions. Some of the combination play was really good and on another day we could have scored more.”
I hope the different kind of threat posed by either player when stationed out wide is now clear to see. It is a concern that when we play a central midfielder out wide we then lack width and variation in our play, but perhaps that is mitigated by starting Hector Bellerin at right-back. Defensively, Oxlade-Chamberlain could improve. He attempted two tackles (neither successful) against West Ham, and of course committed the error that led to West Ham’s second. Ramsey on the other hand was 4/6 on tackles, with three of them coming in wide areas as he sought to help Bellerin double up on Zaha/Bolasie/Puncheon. Ramsey is perhaps a little too ambitious on the ball and should look to use it better. He misplaced 18 passes against Palace, 16 of them in the opposing half and 13 in the final third.
The choice on whether to play Ramsey or Chamberlain wide largely depends on the opposition and the necessity (or lack thereof) of Coquelin accommodating Ramsey’s favoured central role. It also depends on the context/situation we find ourselves in during the game, for instance Coquelin was subbed off against West Ham when the Hammers went 2-0 up and left us chasing, while he was again hooked for Chamberlain when he was running the risk of a second booking and subsequent sending off against Palace. Either way, each contributes in his unique way from the right.
What do you think? Who should start on the right against Liverpool on Monday night?
About Lloyd Gitonga our guest who you can follow @Lloyd_Gitonga
I am a 23-year old Kenyan who begun supporting Arsenal quite by chance in 2005 but I got taken in by the football since, and was nick-named “the professor” for having a little bit obsession niggle with football in high school. Writing is all I know, and if it’s about Arsenal then I’m all in. Also, Thierry Henry was signed on my 7thbirthday, which basically means I was born for this club and I have the coolest birthday in the world. When I finally get to visit the Emirates, or Ashburton Grove as I hope it will be named one day, the whole world will know about it. @Goonerdave66 will get me my ticket!