It’s fair to say that, having won almost everything there is to win in an 11 year spell with Arsenal, Martin Keown knows a thing or two about winning things.
It is also fair to say that, as one of the more considered, articulate, football personalities working in the media, Keown often makes points worth listening to.
For example, his description of Robbie Savage’s co-comms work at the Brighton v Arsenal match sounding like the Permatan was commentating on the Grand National, was spot on in my book.
So, it was with great interest that I listened to his response to a caller to BBC’s 606 programme on Sunday evening.
He talked about Arsenal’s approach at Manchester City, a more considered, cautious approach than the usual “You have a go at us, we’ll have a go at you and may the best team win” thing that normally leaves Arsenal crying behind the bike shed with a bloody nose.
He then he expressed the belief that this wasn’t necessarily a new approach but one that the team hadn’t quite been able to pull off satisfactorily.
Keown identified, with a forensic precision that Dennis Bergkamp would undoubtedly have been proud of, one of the reasons he thought this was: Aaron Ramsey.
Keown said of the man who, last May, won the FA Cup for Arsenal,
“For me he (Ramsey) gambles too much, he doesn’t wait till the possession is secured enough and he is the key.
“If he can get the balance right from [when] he becomes part defender to part attacker, then Arsenal could go on and do particularly well because everyone else in that team was prepared to put a stint in defensively but Ramsey was bursting forward sometimes far too often and that could be a problem in the future.”
The legendary centre back, who provided one of the most memorable Arsenal images ever (at Old Trafford in 2003, of course), went onto stress the importance of getting back into a “recovery position“.
Clearly, he didn’t mean the First Aid version, but Ramsey’s base position on the pitch; the place where the work begins, and where Ramsey must be to help his team- central midfield.
Keown finished his analysis saying,
“He’s got great energy, but if you can’t get back don’t go forward… he has to manage the game better.”
I know that there are those of you who might consider this harsh, possibly even a churlish criticism of a player who’s taken immense strides in the last couple of years. However, aside from the fact that we’ve all been critical of Arsenal’s game management at times, I listen to Martin Keown talking about a central midfielder knowing that he’s talking from a position of authority.
After all, he played behind the greatest central midfielder I’ve ever seen at Arsenal and, no, I’m not talking about Cognitive Dissonance.
No, Keown had the pleasure of playing behind Patrick Vieira. Even Monsieur Vieira, along with his compatriot, Emmauel Petit, needed a bit of a talking to in the autumn of Arsenal’s ’98 double season.
I bet “The Rash” was one of the first in line in during that Blackburn post mortem in 1997 and I reckon he knows exactly what he’s talking about here.
Long story short, I can well imagine that Aaron’s regular raids forward would be a source of continued annoyance for Martin Keown if he was still playing.
Clearly, they have been for Arsène Wenger as he has already spoken about it this season.
Personally, I don’t think there is a major problem with Ramsey. I do, however, think that Ramsey’s “superhero” approach to his football, whilst admirable and understandable, is part of the reason why Francis Coquelin has become such an important first team player. Coquelin is the only midfielder in the team, perhaps even the squad, with a defensive mindset and the ability to perform that role properly, therefore his impact in a team full of attacking midfielders is hardly surprising.
I’m intrigued to see how Ramsey’s role in the team may, or may not change, from here.