When the team sheets were announced at 11:45 on Saturday, news of Nacho Monreal and Olivier Giroud only making the bench was overshadowed by the presence of Mohammed Elneny in the starting lineup.
Aaron Ramsey was once again being asked to play on the right, but this time it wasn’t to accommodate a better central midfielder. Now, it was a purely tactical move in order to help prevent the sort of gaps that appear in midfield when Ramsey plays alongside Francis Coquelin.
Did it work? Well, yes and no. For the first 20 mins, Ramsey kept shuttling into the centre of the field, both in an attempt to close down Eric Dier and Moussa Dembélé, but also to be in a good position to start a counter attack if Arsenal regained possession. The result of this narrowness was that Danny Rose was given ample opportunities to run at an exposed Hector Bellerin, and eventually drew a yellow card for the young Spaniard.
It was only when Elneny started to get to grips with Tottenham’s high press, that Ramsey found room to play. Because of Elneny’s quicker anticipation of passes and then swift distribution of the ball around the Spurs midfield, Ramsey could now afford to play far further up the field and find pockets of space to work in, space that opened up thanks to the tireless running of Danny Welbeck.
Ramsey’s goal came directly from this ability to stay high up the pitch when Arsenal defended. A quick counter presented Bellerin a chance to cross the ball into the box, where only one Arsenal player was in a position to score; Ramsey. It wasn’t a perfect cross, being slightly behind the Welshman, but a superbly improvised finish was enough to beat Lloris.
The second half started off in similar fashion, with Elneny in control and Ramsey trying to cut inside whenever possible. However, Francis Coquelin’s brain fart of a second yellow card meant Ramsey was switched to play in Elneny’s role as the Egyptian took a more defensive role.
Even though Tottenham scored two quick goals after the sending off, they came from a corner that wasn’t cleared properly and a wonder strike from Harry Kane. Neither of these were down to Ramsey being out of position, and Arsenal defended admirably after the second goal, thanks in large parts to not being able to find any space in front of the back four.
But even with a man down, Ramsey still managed to influence the play whilst Arsenal attacked, and had a great chance to win the game in injury time, only to be denied by a superb tackle from behind.
All in all, it was a welcome return to form from Ramsey, but one cannot begin to wonder if whether starting on the right wing might become a permanent positional change for him, just like it was for Freddie Ljungberg. Because if he keeps playing like he did today, it would be an error not to play him there.