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Can A Wilshere & Ramsey Partnership Work?

There are two things that are abundantly evident from Arsenal’s season so far. 1) Arsene Wenger has switched his system around with mixed results. 2) Arsene Wenger really wants Jack Wilshere to be a feature of his starting eleven. Most observers, myself included, fully expected Wilshere to begin the campaign on the outside peering in with regards to Wenger’s starting eleven. The triple entente of Arteta-Ramsey-Özil had finished the season reasonably strongly. That midfield trio duly started the F.A. Cup Final against Hull City in May.

Not only were that triumvirate the manager’s de facto first choice, but they had done a rather immaculate job of taking Hull apart at the KC Stadium in April. The Tigers were unable to cope with Arsenal’s midfield that day as the Gunners ran out convincing 3-0 winners. However, it’s rarely desirable to play your cup final opponents so close to the occasion. In May 2003, Arsenal trounced Southampton 6-1 at Highbury, but just about eked out a 1-0 win over the same side in Cardiff ten days later. It gives your opposition a good opportunity to perform an up close case study on how you play.

At Wembley, Hull made sure to mark Ramsey and Özil very closely indeed. Both struggled to influence the game. Özil was eventually substituted during extra time. Ramsey gradually made a little more headway as the game progressed, largely thanks to his bionic energy levels. Both Özil and Ramsey were forced to drift wide in search of some space. It may have been at this point that Wenger decided that his trusted trio’s effectiveness may have been ephemeral. After all, Ramsey the prolific goalscorer was still a relatively new phenomenon. Teams were still trying to figure out a player emerging from a cocoon.

Even with the addition of Özil, the Gunners still were not a terribly creative outfit. They were the seventh most productive team in the Premier League in terms of chances created last season. Of the sides that progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League, no side created fewer goalscoring opportunities than Arsenal. To think there are still philistines who insist that “Arsenal didn’t need Özil.”  It was fairly clear that this would need to change. Arsene’s solution has been to add a pinch of Jack to the recipe. Wenger has a reputation as a developmental manager and it’s entirely true that he is. But many have been left to wonder whether his attempt to accommodate Wilshere into the formation is for the team’s benefit or Wilshere’s personal welfare.

Much of the debate over Wenger’s tinkering has revolved around the deployment of Mesut Özil from the flank. But a kind of sidebar debate has emerged as to the compatibility of Ramsey and Wilshere. It’s something I have speculated upon myself. I don’t think we have seen both players convince in the same game as yet this season. A good performance from one ordinarily sees a muted display from the other. The reasons for this are obvious. Both players ostensibly play in the same position. They like to prompt danger from deep and they both like to occupy the same spaces. Arsene is still seeking the perfect balance of herbs and spices for his midfield dish.

I attended the Arsecast live event on Monday evening. The esteemed Andrew Allen asked the panel if Ramsey and Wilshere could potentially end up being Arsenal’s answer to the skull achingly tedious Gerrard and Lampard debate of yesteryear. It’s an interesting question and one I think that’s worth exploring. However, having given it some thought, I don’t think our two midfield prodigies are doomed to incongruity in the way that Gerrard and Lampard were.

On a practical level, Gerrard and Lampard was a national team issue. The two would play together at sporadic intervals and therefore never had the chance to foment any sort of understanding. They also played almost exclusively in a four man midfield, which exposed their similarities. Both players liked to spread play from deep with long passing, before arriving late in the penalty area to finish off a move. In that respect, both players are like Aaron Ramsey.

Or by dint of seniority, I suppose it’s more apposite to say Ramsey resembles them stylistically. Had Gerrard and Lampard had the opportunity to work together on a daily basis, in a 3 man central midfield, they might have forged a good partnership. Lest we forget that Jose Mourinho envisaged exactly that when he tried to tempt Gerrard to Chelsea in 2005. However, it’s not solely daily interaction that leads me to believe Ramsey and Wilshere could work together. (Note, I’m not saying they will, but that they could).

Though the two prefer the same position and like to occupy the same space, they actually have very different qualities. To dilute it a tad, Wilshere moves with the ball from the middle third to the final third of the pitch. Ramsey moves without the ball from middle to final third. I think the two could potentially co-exist, but it will take time to properly cement the understanding. Both are good box to box players, equally capable of sitting alongside a nominal screening midfielder and of pulling defences out of shape on the edge of an opponents’ area.

Ramsey Wilshere Arsenal

For this to work, they need to create an understanding about when to alternate. In this respect, you can probably compare them more favourably to the past England midfield combination of David Platt and Paul Gascoigne, which worked well. I think Wilshere and Ramsey could co-operate with a little time to build a relationship. Lest we forget that Arsenal have added a starting eleven player to their attack in each of the last three summers; in Cazorla, Özil, Alexis and I suppose Welbeck as well. That’s quite a lot of new chemistry bubbling around them.

The issue I think is more what this would mean for the overall shape of the team. Ramsey and Wilshere would need a defensive midfielder behind them, for much the same reasons Xavi and Iniesta needed Busquets at their back. In our current shape, to accommodate the two and another midfield player sweeping up behind would mean we continue to deploy Özil from a wide position. Wenger has tried to juggle his ingredients using different weights and measures. Against Spurs, Jack and Özil swapped the wide role, with little success. Against Galatasaray, with Wilshere on the bench, the German and Chamberlain co-opted duties on the right touchline.

So whilst I think that, in isolation, Ramsey and Wilshere could learn to blend their qualities in tandem, I can’t see it working without a major midfield casualty from our squad. I actually think it is more likely that, should he stay fit, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain will have become an increasingly prominent feature of the Arsenal starting eleven. He combines so many qualities in one composite player. He has the energy and technical level required to play Wengerball, but he adds pace, power and width, which you could argue are lacking in our other wide / midfield options.

He brings so much to the table that could be interesting for Arsenal. Two footed like Cazorla, energetic like Rosicky, technically adept enough to riff with Özil and Santi, he is direct and as effective at beating players as Wilshere is and strong like Diaby. Quick like Walcott and Alexis. It’s no coincidence that he is almost equally suited to wide and central roles. I think it is more likely that Chamberlain will be the young British midfielder that eventually lends balance to Arsene’s equation from one of the wide positions. Nevertheless, how Arsenal’s midfield plate is served a year from now remains a point of intrigue. LD.

 Tell us what you think! If you agree, or have a different view, please leave a comment in the comments section or why not write a response or your own article on YouWrite?

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Tags: Wilshere, Ramsey, Özil, Chamberlain, Midfield

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