It’s famine or feast this week. Tomorrow’s match in Bulgaria is followed by the north London derby and then it’s the tumbleweed of the international break. Although this time England have two interesting games at Wembley: Scotland and Spain.
The Champions League, dare I say it, has gone well results-wise and for once, we go into the home straight in a good position. And good form. We’re all aware that this week is the demarcation line between the good and the bad. Post-international break, we can expect our form to fall apart if we believe history is any indicator.
With the current squad, I’m not sure. They responded well to the opening weekend defeat to Liverpool; unbeaten in thirteen and I don’t think anyone can complain about that. Crucially, they are responding to ‘setbacks’ in a positive fashion. The three draws in that run have all been followed by resounding victories in the following game.
The real test comes after the next defeat. We know from the past that Arsenal aren’t always the best at handling them after long unbeaten runs. Some time ago – and I’m talking a few years back – I read a piece on baseball teams which suggested a sports teams collective reaction to losing was a reflection of their head coach’s psyche. If they handled defeat badly, the players responded similarly.
Psycho-babble claptrap? I know not and am loath to attribute that to Arsenal, even if Arsène is a self-confessed bad loser. It’s an interesting perspective though, possibly with a grain of truth. Sometimes you wonder who picks Le Boss up after a poor result. Maybe we won’t find out until the fabled book is published.
Tomorrow’s team selection will be interesting. More updates later today but we seem to have a few options for team selection. The manager was positively purring about Olivier Giroud after Sunderland but like Aaron Ramsey, is it too soon for a return to the starting line-up? In Ramsey’s case, there must surely be an element of caution given the nature of his injury, as well as the length of his absence.
Arsène hinted at that:
“I don’t know. I will have to analyse all that now, with Xhaka back. We play now in the Champions League and then we play Tottenham.
“So I have to see who I rest and who I play without diminishing the chance of the team to win the game.”
There are always those who ‘dislike’ a player, sometimes for no rational reason. However, Ramsey’s performances for Wales at Euro 2016 finally seemed to see a few who didn’t rate him, accept that he is a good player. Such changes of heart are often fragile at best and Ramsey certainly wasn’t helped with a spell on the right. Even for Arsène’s favoured ‘false winger’, he did have the turn of pace of say Ljungberg whose role he was emulating.
The manager admitted it wasn’t a role Ramsey enjoyed, noting that “he can play if needed on the flanks as well. That’s where he is not happy but he can play there as well.”
In the central role, he’s better in pushing forward rather the “holding” role Arsène suggested following the win at Sunderland:
“He is a player who is box-to-box so overall he pushes the team forward. That is what we want in our side. He has a tremendous drive, he’s a bit Lampard-ish you know, where he likes to get in the box, likes to shoot from distance and has similar quality.”
If two games in three days is demanding on a ‘fit’ player, it’s surely too much for one whose hamstring gave out before the final whistle in the opening game of the season.
Personally, I’m happy to see Ramsey back but I’m not sure in a full squad, with the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, he is a player who automatically starts. I’d go as far as to say that he doesn’t with Xhaka, Coquelin and Cazorla ahead of him in the queue. With one or more of them missing, Ramsey offers an alternative to the smooth passing of Elneny; a more direct role, ‘box to box’ in footballing parlance.
Sometimes we’ll need that type of endeavour over the passing game. That’s not to say Ramsey can’t pass, far from it simply that he doesn’t pass and then loiter. The ball goes and so does he; against Tottenham and United for example, if Cazorla isn’t fit, I’d certainly put Ramsey in the middle alongside Coquelin or Xhaka.
Those are thoughts for later this week. I can’t see Ramsey featuring tomorrow as anything more than a late substitute, if at all. Kid gloves on his return, particularly since there is no pressing need to rush him back. Wales will no doubt try to knacker him up during the international break or will Chris Coleman heed his own words and use caution in Ramsey’s comeback? Expediency will overrule common sense, I’m sure; it always does in football.