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Ramsey & Mertesacker Aren't As Good As Last Season. Why?

Back in May, readers of voted Aaron Ramsey and Per Mertesacker at numbers 1 and 2 respectively in the official player of the season poll. Ramsey's development into a world class goalscoring midfielder was rather neatly crystalized by his winning goal in the F.A. Cup Final. Most importantly, this completed a team comeback from a two goal deficit against Hull City, but it also sealed a personal comeback for Aaron Ramsey, for a while so ruthlessly (and often furiously) written off after his slow recovery from a career threatening leg break.

ramsey cup final goal

Per Mertesacker had begun to establish himself as a firm fan favourite for his assured defensive displays and because of his demonstrative commitment to the Arsenal cause. He embraced the "big fuckin' German" chant in exactly the spirit it had been intended, as a very British call to affection. Indeed, Mertesacker took on a lot of traits lusted after by English football fans. He took on a fists clenched, teeth gritted demeanour that occasionally called to mind the determined grimace of Tony Adams.

It's axiomatic that neither player has hit the heights of last season in the current campaign. The whole team has suffered for fluency, but last season's most celebrated performers have had a tougher time than most. There are a number of reasons for this, some obvious, some a little more concealed. Per Mertesacker's exertions at this summer's World Cup, where the BFG undoubtedly reached the pinnacle of his career as a World Cup winner, is a fairly obvious bedfellow for his current malaise. The man himself is fairly candid on that front, back in October he admitted,

"Personally it is difficult at the moment because that was really a long season last year and to come back from that World Cup and get the motivation back. I am nearly back, but you can feel there is something missing at the moment. With those games, the belief and the mentality is there, but the motivation will come back."

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey suggests that his low key start to the season is more a question of fitness and sharpness,

"It was tough out there. But I'm not worried. I know my qualities. I've had a few injuries this season and I'm just getting back. To be honest, I'm still not 100 per cent physically there. It does take a bit out of me. It will take me a few more games to be back to my best. I'm not worried. Certain criticism from people is unfair."

Both Mertesacker and Ramsey are not wrong to point to the physical angle of their indifferent form. In Per's case, Wenger has spoken at length about the effects of the World Cup hangover. Mertesacker has looked like a facsimile of last season's sneering, fist pumping lynchpin, but his World Cup weariness has been exacerbated by a lack of options and a sprinkling of injuries in the back four. Injuries to Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny have meant that Mertesacker has played the full 90 minutes in every Premier League game since his return to action against Everton in August. The match against Southampton in the League Cup has represented his sole respite. Only Wojciech Szczesny has more minutes in an Arsenal shirt this season. That's a gruelling schedule for anyone, let alone a player with only 14 days of pre season preparation under his belt.

per mertesacker tony adams

It's difficult to get across in an age where the individual is feted above all else, but when considering the form of a player, one must always cut a sideward glance at the surrounding mise-en-scene. Football is a collective sport; every single player has weaknesses that require mitigation from those alongside him in the chain. Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi don't have many individual weaknesses, it's true, but to afford them a free role tactically, someone else must sacrifice themselves in order to make the system work. In Gareth Bale's final season at Spurs, Gylfi Sigurdsson basically assumed the role of Bale's butler, plugging the gaps Bale vacated as he flashed an access all areas pass to roam the pitch freely.

Mertesacker has played the majority of the season without three of his most important colleagues. At right back, Bacary Sagna's powers of recovery were essential in helping to veil Mertesacker's lack of pace. Mathieu Debuchy shares his compatriot's agility, but his attempts to acclimatise to his teammates have been hampered by injury. The far more callow Chambers has been called into action at right back. Chambers looks to me to be more comfortable in the centre and his turning circle doesn't look to be much better than Mertesacker's, a fact both Anderlecht and Swansea made great hay from recently. This not only does not mitigate the BFG's speed deficit, but it also forces him to abandon his post in the centre of defence to cover his colleague.

Likewise, Mertesacker's favoured lieutenant Laurent Koscielny has been absent due to injury. It's difficult to imagine a more symbiotic centre half partnership than the Mertescielny axis and it's not really because the pairing accentuate one another's strengths, it's because they assuage one another's weaknesses. Koscielny's all action presence is the amphetamine yin to Per's Prozac yang and Mertesacker's calmness and propensity to sit deeper than the Frenchman balances Laurent's occasional impetuousness. Wenger has preferred Monreal to Chambers at centre back not just because of the Spaniard's superior experience, but because he better replicates Koscielny's qualities, not least his perceptive interceptions.

Monreal likes to defend on the front foot. At Goodison Park in August, Mertesacker was deployed as a left sided centre half alongside Chambers and tried to assume Koscielny's 'up and at 'em' role. The result was a rampaging Romelu Lukaku leaving the German for dead on the halfway line as he fed Steven Naismith for Everton's second goal. Mertesacker has shown his mettle as a leader in Arsenal's defence, but no leader fares well as a lone voice in the crowd. Adams had the likes of Bould, Seaman, Winterburn and Dixon allied around him. Sol Campbell was flanked by able deputies such as Cole, Lauren, Toure, Lehmann and Gilberto Silva when "organising the chain" as Jens Lehmann once termed it.


Mertesacker has missed Arteta's influence too as the Gunners skipper has spent much of the season on the side-lines. Arteta has always been a "technical leader" in the words of Arsene Wenger. Establishing Arsenal's style of play from the back and encouraging his teammates to follow him stylistically. But with increased responsibility, Arteta has become increasingly vocal and a much more tangible presence in organising the midfield defensively. Personally, I don't think it's much of a coincidence that Arsenal's collapse against Anderlecht coincided exactly with his hamstring injury. Essentially, with an unfamiliar backline that doesn't mitigate his weaknesses and having been stripped of defensive leaders such as Sagna, Koscielny and Arteta, Mertesacker is carrying a bigger workload than last season on heavier legs.

The manager has been unusually outspoken on the reason for Ramsey's relative loss of form.

"It's not about goal-scoring. Goal-scoring is a consequence of playing well first, so focus on playing well. You have to keep your priorities right as a midfielder, defend well and attack well and give good goals to the other players."

Arsenal relied heavily on Ramsey's goals last season, with Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck on board and Walcott returning to fitness, they needn't to the same degree this season. It could be that Ramsey still feels that responsibility and it could equally be a subconscious manifestation of ego. He must have enjoyed his increased status as an Arsenal goal scorer last season.

His over enthusiasm in front of goal probably has its roots in the F.A. Cup Final against Hull. Ramsey may have scored the winner, but prior to that, he had six shots on goal- only two of which were on target. Yet having scored the winner eventually, it's possible that neither Ramsey nor the coaching staff analysed the inefficiency too keenly. However, Wenger has stationed Ramsey quite high in the midfield at points early in the season. Most notably in Dortmund, where Ramsey effectively played behind Danny Welbeck. Maybe the manager has had to repackage Ramsey's priorities as much as the player himself.

Yet Ramsey can cite some of the same strategic alterations in the midfield that have blighted Mertesacker in defence. Arteta-Ramsey-Özil became a reasonably well established midfield partnership last season. Arsenal's midfield has been more malleable than silly putty this season. He has also had to try and make his goalscoring charm work with new sheriffs in town in the shape of Alexis and Welbeck. Ramsey only scored once last season when Theo Walcott was in the starting line up and that suggests he had trouble sharing the responsibility of thrusting into the opponent's penalty area.

ramsey ozil

It's well documented that the manager has tried to chisel Ramsey into the midfield with Wilshere this season and the pair have found chemistry hard to come by. They both have different attributes, but like to express them from similar areas. Much like Mertesacker, Ramsey has seen transition all around him and he has not been able to make sense of his role. His is an existential torpor in Arsenal's midfield rebrand. Aaron is a talented individual, but he has struggled to click alongside other virtuosos such as Wilshere, Alexis and Walcott. He found no such trouble last season alongside more collective players such as Arteta, Giroud and Özil. Perhaps for Ramsey, this current spell is a lesson in tactical maturity and that whilst it's nice to have a team relying on you in terms of status, sharing is still caring. 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: Mertesacker, Ramsey

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