Arsenal struggled to a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road on Sunday evening but there is one positive thing to take from the game: Aaron Ramsey is back.
Not a classic performance from the Welshman, but he started for the first time since the 2-0 defeat of Bayern Munich over a month ago and completed 72 minutes before coming off.
Playing from the right-hand side of midfield, Ramsey’s passing was good. Arsenal had the majority of the ball but couldn’t always move it forward in dangerous areas. For once, Ramsey was guilty of this too as he played it fairly safe on his return. Of his 39 attempted passes, 36 found an Arsenal player and one led to a shot.
Most interesting about his performance was his movement off the ball and interpretation of his role, which makes him incredibly difficult to pick up. In recent weeks, Joel Campbell has generally stayed on the right flank, but Ramsey gives Arsenal an extra man in other areas in order to overload space or provide Bellerín with room to roam down the wing.
As well as stretching the opposition and finding good areas, Ramsey couldn’t influence the result on Sunday. Perhaps easing his way back into action, couple with the fact his teammates weren’t great, he was a bit safer than usual in his decision making.
Nonetheless, he did play one key pass and have one (blocked) shot in a dangerous area. Ramsey is a crucial part of the Arsenal team going forward and, with Alexis Sánchez and possibly Santi Cazorla injured, it’s huge that he is back.
Of Arsenal players to have played over 200 minutes in the Premier League this season, only the attacking quartet of Alexis Sánchez, Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud contribute to more shots per 90 minutes than Ramsey. His 1.6 key passes per game and 2.9 shots per game are worth far more than the one goal and no assists he has in the Premier League so far this season.
In fact, on average, Paul Riley’s expected goals model would have Ramsey down for four direct goal contributions from his 10 Premier League appearances so far this season. Importantly, Ramsey doesn’t only shoot a lot but shoots from inside the box more often than not, giving himself more opportunities to actually score. It’s not paid off so far, but it will in the long run.
It’s Ramsey’s engine that makes him so important to the Gunners and his return should help Arsenal reassert themselves in midfield against competent sides. Not only will he have end product, but his general play is strong and constant. Ramsey has attempted 61.8 passes per 90 minutes so far this season, compared to Joel Campbell’s 28.7 during his time in the side.
He also attempts more tackles (2.2 per 90 minutes) than anyone to have played regularly except Francis Coquelin. It’s this willingness to get involved that can allow Arsenal to play Santi Cazorla in the middle of the field. Alongside the Spaniard, Ramsey tucks in to become a third central midfielder when required. When Arsenal choose to press higher up the field, Ramsey has the legs and the brain – he’s one of the only Arsenal players to consistently use a cover shadow to block passing options and force the ball into less dangerous areas.
Giving the ball away far more infrequently than Alexis Sánchez, Arsenal’s best all-round midfielder has so far balanced everything about the team’s play this season.
He may not be at his best, nor his most useful, from the right, but Aaron Ramsey still makes Arsenal tick. His movement and vision help Arsenal create, his industry and intelligence make Arsenal more solid, and his importance to the team can’t be stressed enough.
Welcome back, Aaron.