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The failure to replace Aaron Ramsey continues to undermine Arsenal’s struggling attack

December 16, 2019

THERE is no one *thing* wrong with Arsenal at the moment. There is no one *thing* Freddie Ljungberg or the next Arsenal manager can do to fix everything. The team and the players are so profoundly broken that they will take some delicate handling to reconstruct. Arsenal are not a squad of world-beaters; but they are better than their current showing.

There are lots of actions the new manager will need to take, macro and micro, to reverse the rotten culture that has taken root in this Arsenal squad. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t individual tactical tweaks that could improve this porcelain Gunners outfit. There have been many stages to this managed decline.

That said, you can plot a line from Aaron Ramsey’s final game for the club – as his hamstring gave way once again in Naples on April 18th – to the team’s current malaise. Arsenal have won 12 games out of 33 since that evening, having won eight out of 10 leading up to the away win over Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Ramsey made Emery’s system work because he provided an obvious link between midfield and the attack.

It’s a link in the chain Arsenal haven’t been able to fix ever since. Arsenal’s goalscoring numbers from outside of their front three are impoverished. Joe Willock has four goals, but none in the Premier League, Lucas Torreira has two, both in defeats at Anfield, Dani Ceballos has one, a pretty inconsequential goal in a 4-0 home win over Standard Liege.

The Gunners have been overly reliant on Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on goals for far too long, this is not exactly a secret. A big issue with this is that both play on the same line of attack, they are both centre-forwards and neither specialises in late arrival into the penalty area. When Arsenal mount attacks, either both Lacazette and Aubameyang are standing in the area, or else Lacazette is standing in the area while Aubameyang is asked to work the touchline.

Essentially, when Arsenal attack, there is little to no jeopardy. A player like Ramsey provides this because he specialises in making late runs into the area and disrupting the defensive line. Currently, no Arsenal player offers something similar. Likewise, Alexis Sanchez, or at least the player that Alexis Sanchez used to be, has been a big miss for Arsenal.

Sanchez was a player that relied heavily on spontaneity and inspiration, but he also wrecked the lines of the opposition defence with his willingness to take the game to the opponents and travel between the middle and final thirds. Freddie Ljungberg can hope that Nicolas Pepe can provide a little of what Arsenal lost when Alexis Sanchez left for Manchester United.

I think Arsenal have been too keen to admonish Pepe for his mercurial properties, that entirely comes with the territory for creative attacking players – as it did with Sanchez. You have to put up with unsuccessful dribbles and through balls that don’t quite come off if you want the golaços and the eye of the needle assists.

Gabriel Martinelli is another forward who offers a little bit of devil in the detail of Arsenal’s attack, someone who seeks to break lines with his attacking runs and commit defenders. However, the Gunners also need this sort of intervention from deeper positions, they need players that are keen to move between the thirds and evade opposition detection in attack.

These sorts of players are crucial as the supporting cast to any attack. They make your first line attackers more difficult to pick up, for a start, but even if opposing defences feel comfortable picking up the guys who live and breathe in the 18-yard box, then the second-line support runners either divert their attention, or else they move into dangerous areas undetected.

That does come with some element of risk and Sanchez and Ramsey were often criticised for ruining the structure of the team. If you’re serious about being an attacking team that dominates the opposition and maximises its attacking situations, players that break free of the structure of the team to support the attack are essential. Currently, the Gunners don’t have enough players of this ilk and it’s making their attack one-paced and predictable.