Ramsey on the Right

Ramsey on the right just feels…right.

Ever since his miraculous resurrection in 2013-14, Gooners have pined for the second coming of their Welsh Jesus. Sadly, Aaron Ramsey has failed to rediscover the shooting boots that propelled him to such heights, and he’s languished on the edges of relevance for the better part of the last two seasons. The surprising emergence of Francis Coquelin, a much more-defensive minded player, thrust the out-of-form Ramsey to the side, literally and figuratively, and it seemed like the only way to fit him on the pitch was to play him wide right.

At first, this seemed like a classic case of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It did nothing for Ramsey’s scoring and seemed to deny the spot to someone with a sharper eye for goal. However, the most-natural choice there – Theo Walcott – has suffered from injuries, poor form, and a misbegotten desire to play through the middle. Re-enter Ramsey. Even as Joel Campbell has shown flashes, he hasn’t been consistent enough to claim the winger’s role for himself, and it falls to Ramsey almost by default. Among the three, he’s the only one with the skill-set diverse enough to do the job. It might not be his best position, but he’s the best one for it, at least for now. Despite his goal-scoring drought, he’s still one of Arsenal’s most dangerous players going forward, and he’s the only one among his rivals who does as much in defense.

Playing him on the right also solves a dilemma that dates back to that wondrous season in which he scored so many scintillating goals: he loves to get forward. As a winger, that is after all his job. As a defensive midfielder, even if we dub him a box-to-box midfielder, he too often exposes his partner, leaving Coquelin or Flamini all alone as he vainly, even recklessly, chases a goal. His impressive workrate and stamina cannot make up for the fact that he might find himself still in the opponent’s area as a counterattack flows past midfield. Until Coquelin, Chambers, or Elneny show that they can shield the back four on their own, Ramsey has to either learn to be more responsible or accept playing on the wing. Which one seems more likely?

Against Spurs this past weekend, Ramsey helped to create congestion in the midfield, denying those inverted wingers the space or time they’d like in order to cut in, and they struggled to exploit the space on the wing that Ramsey offered as he moved more centrally in search of scoring chances. Whether this would work against a left winger who likes to stay wide is another question, but Hector Bellerin did show that he could manage largely on his own, freeing Ramsey up to overload the middle and look to score.

That he did score should come as little surprise. His nose for goal is as keen as it’s ever been, and his goal against Tottenham came as he moved from the left wing towards the middle, laying waste to the idea that his nominal position matters. Playing him on the right makes the most of his strengths and minimizes many of his weaknesses. If he can learn to like it, he might even start to flourish.

With Arsenal nipping at Tottenham’s heels after struggling to find points in their last three outings, an in-form Ramsey could make a tremendous difference. That goal against Tottenham didn’t just earn Arsenal a vital point; it might have shown the man where he can be at his best.