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Has Ramsey’s Criticism this Season been Deserved?

 

Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey reacts during their Champions League Group D soccer match against Anderlecht at Constant Vanden Stock stadium in Brussels October 22, 2014.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Permit me to take you down memory to a famous evening at Wembley. After Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny had played their roles in clawing the Gunners out from the embarrassing jaws of defeat, a moment arrived deep into extra time that sent all Arsenal fans worldwide to raptures. The silky Olivier Giroud noticed a player making one of his trademarks late surges into the box and he executed a neat back-heeled pass that was poked home by Arsenal’s undoubted player of the season, Aaron Ramsey.

With his highest ever goalscoring tally at club level, Ramsey ascended from being a frustrating player to watch (remember 2011/12 season?) to being the next best thing against Arsenal. He was the epitome of everything good at the club and many Arsenal fans even say that if he had remained fit all season long, they might had won the Premier League. That’s a justifiable claim bearing in mind how he performed in the 2013/14 Premier League.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t just the goals that epitomized Ramsey’s scintillating form for the club last season. Ramsey’s 2013/14 stats (via WhoScored) were been jaw-dropping to say the least.

STATS (EPL Only)

Aaron Ramsey

Appearances (Subs)

20 (3)

Goals Scored

10

Assists

8

Shots per Game

2.2

Minutes per Goal

176.4

Tackles per Game

3.3

Bookings (Yellow / Red)

3 / 0

Attempted Dribbles per Game

1.3

Chances Created

32

Total Passes (Accurate Passes)

1262 (1064)

Pass Completion %

84.3

Total Long Balls (Accurate)

89 (62)

Total Through Balls (Accurate)

23 (7)

With the fitness levels of an Ox, Ramsey played Arsenal’s first 18 games in the Premier League, notching up eight goals and six assists. In these 18 games, Arsenal amassed 12 wins, three draws and suffered three defeats. Ramsey missed out on Arsenal’s remaining 14 League games and in his absence, the Gunners had eight victories, three draws and suffered three defeats which include those humiliating results against Liverpool and Chelsea.

This showed that the Gunners had a 66% win ratio in the Premier League when Ramsey took to the pitch but had a 57% win ratio while he was at the treatment table.

He made his return in a brief cameo against West Ham and after getting some extra games under his belt, Ramsey scored Hull twice (Premier League and FA Cup final) as well as a wonder strike against Norwich in the final league game of the season.

With Wales not qualifying for the World Cup, Ramsey watched his teammates in the soccer fiesta and was certainly happy for the likes of Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker that came back home with the trophy.

Things were expected of him in the new campaign and Ramsey obliged with a Man of the Match performance in the FA Community Shield against Manchester City, where he notched up a goal and an assist. He was Arsenal’s savior yet again in the curtain raiser against Crystal Palace then he earned himself a foolish red card in the qualifier against Besiktas. Many Arsenal fans fretted at the prospect of missing Ramsey for the vital second leg at the Emirates but Alexis Sanchez turned up on the night and never looked back.

Ramsey made his return in the League with a late goal against Everton and he created a neat assist for Jack Wilshere against Manchester City before suffering a hamstring injury in the North London Derby. Since then, Rambo’s form has been downright erratic for a player of his high standards. His blood-like thirst for goals has seen him drift away from performing his other essential duties on the pitch and with the likes of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini not getting enough ‘assistance’ from Ramsey, they have been left exposed countless times and in most cases, Arsenal ends up conceding a goal.

At some point, Ramsey lost his place in the team due to his fitness issues and / or bad patch of form. Sadly, he continued his wretched run with another uncharacteristic torrid outing against Swansea and he was eventually substituted.

According to the Daily Mail, Ramsey has hit back on the fans that have criticized his form, labeling it as ‘unfair’,

‘I’m not worried. I know my qualities. ‘I’ve had a few injuries this season and I’m just getting back. To be honest, I’m still not 100 per cent physically there. It does take a bit out of me.

‘It will take me a few more games to be back to my best. I’m not worried. Certain criticism from people is unfair.’

Ramsey, like a couple of his teammates, is currently going through a rough patch and for a player of his caliber, I’d say that the criticism he has received has been deserved. Criticism is a honest way to letting an individual know how you really feel about him and you don’t need any soothsayer to tell you that Ramsey isn’t playing well at the moment.

Is there something that can be done about it? Yes!

As Wenger advised, Ramsey needs to go back to the basics to do his primary job as a midfielder. We live in a world where attacking players are judged by the goals they score but sometimes, those aren’t the stats we need to be bothered about. Last season, Ramsey was a growing influential figure within the team and his absence was a bitter pill to swallow as the Gunners lacked his determination, inspiration, commitment, doggedness and technical ability.

If he can focus on improving his game, starting with the all-important clash against Manchester United, it would go a long way in restoring him to his good form.

You have to be good before you can become the Alexis, I mean, best.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal Transfer Rumors: Lukas Podolski Linked with Napoli

 

Lukas Podolski played 90 minutes in Germany’s 4-0 win over Gibraltar and provided a neat assist for Thomas Mueller. This was the first time the forward played a full game since Arsenal’s Capital One Cup defeat to Southampton back in September. Arsene Wenger even stated a long while ago that the German is his best finisher but somehow, the striker has been frozen out for as long as I can remember. The last time he had an extended run of games was in the tail end of last season and he repaid Wenger’s faith with well-taken braces against West Ham and Hull which took his tally for the campaign to 12 goals.

This season, Podolski has renewed his bench warming duties but he did come on to devastating effect against Anderlecht, scoring the goal that gave his team all three points on the night. He also had a brief cameo in the Burnley where he almost destroyed the cross bar with a thunderous shot. After notching up his 121st cap against Gibraltar, Podolski voiced his frustrations about his lack of playing time,

“I’ve spent the last four months making brief appearances, I’ve had to wrap myself up warm in my winter coat with my hat and scarf on to watch the others playing.

“I would rather show Arsenal what I am capable if, but this chance to show what I can do is not being given to me.

“I want to play football for many years to come so am I meant just to say everything’s fine and sit my contract out?”

If a player like Nicklas Bendtner was earning the kind of bucks Podolski earns, I’m pretty sure he’d have preferred to sit his contract out. Podolski is 29 years old and he has at least three to four more seasons left in him. Many Arsenal fans have their opinions about the lad but while he can be an incredibly frustrating player to watch (especially when he gets anonymous in games), he is also a quality striker that can be relied upon to finish off a ball when the chance comes.

Germany’s manager, Joachim Loew, has urged the player to leave Arsenal to get regular playing time, because his place in the German team is severely threatened. Despite being a World Cup winner, Podolski played a bit part role in the tournament and even with Marco Reus missing the tournament through injury, there was still no place for Podolski in Germany’s starting XI in most of the games. German great, Rudi Voeller has backed Podolski to excel at Arsenal but I feel that time is running out.

Podolski plays predominantly from the left but with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deployed from the left, Podolski hardly stands a chance there. In the center forward position, Podolski is further down the pecking order Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck. When the manager is looking for a goal against Swansea and he brings on Yaya Sanogo ahead of Podolski, that clearly means that the boss favours the young lanky French lad that has never scored for the club over a player that has scored 29 goals in 75 apps for Arsenal.

According to Football Italia, Podolski is heavily linked with a move to SSC Napoli this winter. The Italian outfit were dealt a heavy blow when their talented winger, Lozenro Insigne, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury on his knee and he’s definitely going to miss the rest of the season, getting a player like Podolski would be a plausible option, bearing in mind that he’s going to fill Insigne’s boots, should he decide to leave North London for Naples.

Rafa Benitez’ side are currently in third place behind League leaders, Juventus, and second placed AS Roma. Former Arsenal target, Gonzalo Higuain, and Jose Callejon are leading the club’s scoring charts with eight goals each. Napoli is also leading their Europa League group and are in pole position to qualify to the next round.

If things don’t improve for the German, he may be forced to make a decision in January. Let’s hope it’s the right one for the player and the club.

Sayonara.

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Good News on Injuries and International Football Updates

Danny Welbeck and Kieran Gibbs

I traveled for a conference for a couple of days so I wasn’t chanced to blog. It’s one of the things I’ve come to terms with as I’m still trying to strike that balance between working in an Oil and Gas company and blogging about Arsenal. We should obviously know what takes precedence. Irrespective though, not much has happened since I last published a post three days ago.

International football has taken center stage and as a Nigerian, I watched the Super Eagles take on a Congo side with a hostile crowd backing them. The Eagles needed a two-goal cushion to help their cause in their bid to qualify for the 2015 AFCON that’s now scheduled to take place in Equatorial Guinea and goals from Ikechukwu Uche and Aaron Samuel helped Stephen Keshi’s side achieve that. Sadly, the Congolese fans attempted to attack the Super Eagles but the police and other authorities had to intervene. What a shame. Such poor losers.

Moving over to European football, Arsenal had its contingent on the international stage and many eyes were on the England vs Slovenia game that featured many Gunners. Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere and “Dat Guy” Danny Welbeck played all 90 minutes with the Ox coming on late on. The visitors grabbed the lead when Jordan Henderson nodded in a hilarious own goal but things were leveled when Shrek won a penalty and blasted in the dead ball past Samir Handanovic. The Three Lions went ahead when Welbeck showed good anticipation to the rebound the ball after some good work from Adam Lallana and the game was settled when Welbeck connected well with Raheem Sterling to place the ball home. I certainly hope that his confidence will be boosted ahead of the all-important clash against Manchester United and he hasn’t been on the goals lately so he needed this.

Elsewhere, Arsenal’s man on fire, Alexis Sanchez, opened the scoring in Chile’s 5-0 demolition against Venezuela. It wasn’t the neatest goal you’d see Alexis score but it was a very good team goal all round that involved intricate passing play before Alexis (that got ahead of his teammate, Gary Medel) nodded the ball home from point blank range. Santi Cazorla played for 70 minutes in Spain’s 3-0 thumping of Belarus before he was replaced by Jose Callejon. Goals from Isco, Busquets the Diver and Pedro settled the contest.

Lukas Podolski played 90 minutes for Germany and created an assist in their 4-0 victory over minnows, Gibraltar. With a population of just 30,000 people, Gibraltar doesn’t have much ‘professional footballers’. The illustration below speaks louder than words.

Gibraltar 'actual occupations' team graphic is absolutely brilliant

In four qualifiers played thus far, Gibraltar has shipped in seven goals against Poland and Ireland, three goals against Georgia and yesterday, four goals against Germany. They are yet to score in the qualifiers and only God knows how they’d celebrate when they score. Hope it won’t be like Tahiti’s boat paddling when they scored Nigeria in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Wojciech Szczesny kept a clean sheet for Poland in their 4-0 drubbing of Georgia and the Poles are in pole position in the group ahead of Germany, which has been a major highlight of the qualifiers thus far. Time will tell to know if they can keep up but Robert Lewandowski and co. are in a rich vein of form. Joel Campbell also got involved in some international action as Costa Rica endured a pulsating encounter against Uruguay before winning on penalties. It was 3-3 in normal regulation time.

Off the pitch, there has been some encouraging news in regard to fitness of some players. When Olivier Giroud fractured his leg against Everton, even the most optimistic of fans expected him to return to action in early 2015 but in his absence Danny Welbeck has pretty good job. The Englishman has scored five goals in 12 games for the Gunners but he has notched up a couple of assists as well. Having a striker like Giroud back way ahead of schedule is a major plus, because the Handsome French Bloke is integral to the Gunners style of play.

With 17 goals in his first season and 22 goals in his second, Giroud’s progression has been good and it’s also worth noting that Arsenal has missed Giroud on the pitch, especially his headed clearances when the Gunners defend dead balls. The amount of goals the Gunners have conceded to headed balls have been appalling. Giroud’s return will also put Welbeck in some measure of pressure, that would spur the Englishman to perform better knowing that his place in the team will be threatened by the HFB.

Finally, there’s also some good news on Matt Debuchy, as the fullback hopes to return to action as soon as possible. He suffered a bizarre injury against Manchester City but in his absence Calum Chambers has done a decent job, well, until the game against Swansea where he was taken to the cleaners by Jefferson Montero. In all honesty, I’m not looking forward to seeing the duel between Chambers and Angel di Maria but hey, that’s football. Who knows if he’d put the angel in a cage and throw away the keys.

That’s it for Sunday folks.

Sayonara.

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What Can Podolski and Rosicky Do to Get Games?

With no club football coming anytime soon, it’s always good to stay and take stock of how things have panned out thus far this season. By this time last season, the Gunners were riding high with Premier League aspirations and it seemed as if they were actually cut out for it. As we all know, their league campaign crumbled as the months went by and it was good seeing the Gunners win the FA Cup. Arsenal’s run to the FA Cup final in Wembley was quite memorable and many players contributed in one way or another.

For a ‘fringe’ player like Lukas Podolski, his brace against Coventry served as his only goals in the competition but he went on to score eight league goals and one in the Champions League to take his tally for the campaign to 11. Tomas Rosicky on the other hand, had a handful of matches and his moment of glory in the competition when he ran the length of the pitch before chipping the ball over Hugo Lloris. He also scored a screamer against the same opposition in the league as well as that Norwich-esque finish against Sunderland.

This season, the games have been hard to come by for Podolski and Rosicky. The ageless Czech has played just 22 minutes of Premier League football this season and he has had just 31 Champions League minutes. The only time he played a full game was in the Capital One defeat to Southampton where he conceded the penalty that brought the opposition into the game.

The Czech maestro is quite perplexed about his current predicament,

“I understand that I am 34-years-old and that it probably plays a role whether I like it or not. That’s without doubt. However, I’m not in physical decline. When I played for the national team against Holland I ran 12km and according to the tests at Arsenal I’m in the top five (players) in terms of speed. 

“We are on good terms, so I do not really know what it is. It is purely a coach’s decision. It’s not my decline. My health is fine too. Of course I want to play, but there’s not much I can do about it.” 

Maybe all good things come to an end, but I wouldn’t want to see Rosicky’s career end this way with the Gunners. In the tail end of the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons, Rosicky served as the renaissance man and he helped the team to Champions League berths with his brilliant play. But with the quality of players at Arsenal’s disposal, the chances of the Czech star featuring are few and far between. His versatility ensures that he can be deployed in any of the advanced midfield positions but as it stands, Wenger is sticking to the current lot at the moment. Alexis is currently playing as a No. 10 and he has excelled admirably there. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a major bright spark this season and the Gunners boss may not want to stifle his progress, especially with Theo Walcott on his way to full fitness. Some say that Santi Cazorla is meant to be axed from the squad but his creativity has been a highlight this season.

As for Podolski, he has struggled when he featured in the center forward position and is more or less limited to the left wing. His goal to game ratio is exemplary but many Arsenal fans can attest to the fact that Podolski gets anonymous in many games. However, Wenger’s decision to play Yaya Sanogo, a player that had never scored for the club, ahead of the German when the Gunners needed a goal, was quite puzzling. The German has confessed that he’s not happy with his situation and he’d seek talks with his manager over his future.

I still believe that Podolski and Rosicky will get their chances in the foreseeable future, but one wonders if they’d be patient enough.

Sayonara.

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Geoffery Kondogbia: Can He Solve Arsenal’s Defensive Problems?

The highs of the wins against Sunderland and Burnley have been replaced by the all-time lows from the recent results against Anderlecht and Swansea. The players have been vocal about how they want things to change but I and many Arsenal fans out there would prefer actions on the pitch, rather than soft words off it. Confidence on the players and the manager has reached a nadir and Twitter wasn’t a nice place to be on Sunday night. As expected, some fans wanted Arsene Wenger’s head on a plate while others blamed it on some other lifeforms from outer space.

This season, Arsenal has failed to click in the Premier League and with just 11 games gone, Arsene Wenger’s side is way behind the current table toppers, Chelsea. There have been some pathetic displays like the games against Leicester (away), Dortmund (away), Southampton (home), Tottenham (home), Chelsea (away), Hull (home) before the horror fest against Anderlecht last week Tuesday.

Injuries and a wretched run of form from some players have taken its toll on the team this season but while injuries remain part and parcel of the game, loss of form is something that can be managed. Everyone connected with Arsenal knows that despite the fact that Aaron Ramsey remains a lovable character following his amazing exploits last season, his form has deteriorated badly this season. Santi Cazorla is another player that has been shocking this season and when you think of the fact that his last league goal came in January, you’d see how desperately he’s trying to score yet his shooting boots are never with him. As for Jack Wilshere, you just can’t rely on him to stay fit.

One part of the team that has been on the spotlight all season long is the holding midfield role that has been rotated by the captain, Mikel Arteta, and his deputy, Mathieu Flamini. Constant niggling injuries to the captain has seen Flamini get an extended run of fixtures in the role but he has struggled horribly this season. Flamini reached his lowest point in the North London Derby when he, a holding midfielder, was robbed off the ball by Christian Eriksen that threaded a pass to Nacer Chadli who wasted no time in placing the ball past Wojciech Szczesny.

Sadly, Flamini is the shadow of the player that tormented opposition attacking midfielders in the yesteryear. Even when he made his comeback last season, I was among the faction of the Arsenal faithful that expressed my dissatisfaction and still clamored for a holding midfielder with Arteta suffering from one of his trademark muscular injuries. The Frenchman came on as a sub in the North London Derby and made his presence felt forcing me to eat my words. As the weeks progressed, the yellow cards stacked up and the Frenchman served a lot of suspensions here and there. Then there was the stupid red card against Southampton at St. Mary’s.

Arteta returned and things weren’t the best but at least, they were a bit better. Arsenal was utterly destroyed at the Etihad, Anfield and Stamford Bridge but in winning the FA Cup, Wenger had the best platform to build on something good. The early signings of Alexis Sanchez (what a signing!), Matt Debuchy, Calum Chambers and David Ospina showed that the Gunners meant business but there were two positions that needed some investment. Wenger closed the club’s cheque book and the fans watched in futility as Thomas Vermaelen left for the shores of Spain without being replaced. Of course that holding midfielder we hoped for didn’t arrive, so it was a classic case of making do with what we had, even though it seemed as if it wasn’t enough.

With Arteta suffering from more injuries, Flamini continued to feature but in all honesty, he hasn’t been able to offer enough protection to an already shaky back line. The tactical switch to 4-1-4-1 requires the DM to be a physically tenacious combatant that combines brains with brawn. Flamini obviously lacks the physique, technical ability, agility and other key ingredients to play in this role for an ‘ambitious’ side like Arsenal. At least, it’s glaring for everyone to see that he isn’t cut out for this role, so the only plausible option would be to invest in January.

With the likes of Morgan Schneiderlein, Victor Wanyama, Sami Khedira, William Carvalho unlikely to leave in January due to reasons best known to Smaug the Terrible, former Arsenal legend, Perry Groves, is recommending for the Gunners to take a punt at the wonderkid from AS Monaco, Geoffery Kondogbia,

“They need a physically imposing holding midfield player as they have many technically gifted players going forward but they don’t have many players that think defensively. 

“There’s a lad at Monaco called Geoffrey Kondogbia who is very similar to Patrick Vieira and he played at the Emirates Cup. Arsenal need someone who can help in the transition from defence to attack.

“It would take a lot of money to get him, but he’s physically imposing and he would be the perfect buy.”

Everybody has an opinion on who they’d want to see at Arsenal but we all know that there’s only one man’s voice that matters – Arsene Wenger.

However, the question remains – Will a player like Kondogbia solve Arsenal’s defensive problems? I think not. If stats are your thing, feel free to check out his stats on WhoScored and it’s pretty impressive I must say but Arsenal’s defensive problems aren’t down to Flamini’s incompetency in the middle of the park.

There are the obvious issues such as exposing an inexperienced 19-year-old into the thick of things at such a tender age (good for his learning curve though), using a square Nacho peg in a fat round hole, the injuries to the incumbent defensive personnel and a Per Mertesacker in pretty much shitty form. Further up the pitch, I can only think of Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and the Ox that really close down the opposition. The likes of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil (when he was fit) and Jack Wilshere don’t have the word ‘closing down’ in their lexicon.

Until we can fix that fundamental flaw of defending better as a team, even a defensive midfielder from Krypton called Clark Kent would not be a able to do a good job in the team – even though, he’d be better than Flamini and Arteta. I love taking cue from Southampton’s performances this season because Ronald Koeman’s boys built on the foundations set by Mauricio Pochettino which involves high pressing play and this season, their collective defending is outstanding. The lads from the South wouldn’t match the Gunners pound for pound in terms of quality and talent available at their disposal but they’re above the Gunners in the league and currently have the highest amount of clean sheets.

The resilience and tenacity shown from the Southampton lads was exhibited in Arsenal’s late run for a Champions League berth in the 2012/13 season after the win against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. They followed that victory with wins over Swansea (2-0), Reading (4-1), West Brom (2-1), Norwich (3-1), Fulham (1-0), QPR (1-0), Wigan (4-1) and Newcastle (1-0). Only draws against Manchester United and Everton dented this amazing run that saw the Gunners win eight games in 10. It was the kind of form champions where made of but it was just enough to see off another challenge from Tottenham for a Champions League berth.

It’s sad to see superb players like Laurent Koscielny and Matt Debuchy out injured but when they’re replaced with Nacho Monreal as a center back and Chambers in right back, no questions should be asked if things don’t turn out well. If Mertesacker had Bacary Sagna to his east and Vermaelen to his west, some say he might have fared better but football isn’t judged like that. He had both players next to him when Robin van Persie headed in the only goal in Manchester United’s win over the Gunners in Old Trafford last season.

Despite their shortcomings, Monreal and Chambers are giving their all for the badge in front of the jerseys they wear and they have my full support but Arsene Wenger got us into the mess. He’s the only one that can fix it.

Sayonara.

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