Friday, 25 November 2011

Ramsey’s hard-working performance was the key to beating Dortmund

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Aaron Ramsey's performance against Borussia Dortmund.

It’s an old cliché, but the best clichés are absolutely true, and in this case it is. Truly world-class players are those who can overcome adversity, misfortune and poor form and still turn it around and make the difference when it really matters.

Apologies for being cheesy, but it’s difficult not to be when talking about a man who this time last year was sitting on the side-lines wondering what could have been had the horrible incident that ended with his leg being broken not occurred.

I am, of course, talking about 20 year old Welsh captain, and recent Arsenal fan favourite, Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder had a difficult first half, only able to show flashes of brilliance as Arsenal struggled to deal with Dortmund’s relentless pressing, but came out in the second half and – along with Alex Song and Mikel Arteta – controlled the all-important midfield battle and, ultimately, the game.

With the signing of Mikel Arteta, Arsene Wenger has been able to alter his tactics somewhat from the start of the season. When Arsenal started the season with a basic 4-5-1 (or 4-1-2-3) formation, with Song purely a holding player and Ramsey and one another just ahead, the problem was that there was no ‘link-player’.

Ramsey’s freedom was limited by the natural similarities between himself and Rosicky (or Nasri) – both players wanted to go forward but Ramsey didn’t have enough confidence to ensure his partner covered him, and ended up rarely moving forward at all.

Now, Ramsey appears safe in the knowledge that Arteta prefers a deeper role and his natural movement has transformed a defensive 4-5-1 into a counter-attacking 4-2-3-1, with Ramsey spear-heading the midfield.

Against Dortmund, however, the away side’s constant pressure on the ball forced Ramsey back for much of the first half and the Welshman struggled to find space and time on the ball. In fact, along with Van Persie and Gervinho he was dispossessed the second most of any Arsenal player (three)* – a stat that gives ultimate credit to Dortmund’s excellent pressing game.

Furthermore, the way Dortmund pressed Arsenal’s midfield and back-line meant the German side always had at least one player marking a man in red and white. This meant that most of the passes made by Arsenal’s midfielders went backwards or sideways (or both) and Dortmund won the ball back in the channels on several occasions and so 75% of Dortmund’s attacks came down the channels*.

Ramsey responded to Dortmund’s dominance in the wide-areas well; contesting four tackles (three successful) and making three interceptions*, with most of them coming in the right midfield zone.

Ramsey wasn’t helped by the defensive performance s of Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny, however. While both players had good games, their contrasting approaches to the game (Walcott is a very attack minded winger, Koscielny naturally a deep-lying centre-back) meant there was a large gap left to be exposed between the two of them.

While Ramsey moved wide to help out, it was at the risk of dangerous Dortmund counter-attacks through the middle; Arsenal had largely luck to thank for getting away with this as Mario Goetze and Lars Bender both came off early and reduced Dortmund’s strength in central-midfield.

In the second half, however, it was a completely different ball-game. Robin van Persie’s opener just four minutes after the break opened things up and Ramsey was able to take advantage of the space left by Dortmund’s increasingly desperate (and therefore risky) attempts to level.

The Welsh playmaker was Arsenal’s most creative player throughout the game, and looked dangerous with the ball at his feet whenever he was given time to pick a pass. On several occasions he looked to link up with the electric Theo Walcott, but despite two accurate through-balls, and six accurate long passes, Ramsey created just one shooting chance* – showing how wasteful the Gunners’ were for most of the game.

Aaron Ramsey – and Arsenal’s – return to form has seen the Welshman slowly but surely re-build his confidence on and off the pitch. It was never going to be easy to be thrown into a side and immediately be expected to replace one of the best players in the world but Ramsey has finally risen to the challenge and looks better every game. He will need a rest soon, having played 70 or more minutes in three of his last five games for the club, but his consistency in recent games means he may be missed more than anticipated.

*OPTA Statistics provided by

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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