In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s night’s 3-3 draw at Bournemouth Aaron Ramsey was again called out for his performance, with the full gamut of accusations levelled at the Welshman.
Complaints ranged from an apparent lack of effort to an inability to pass the ball forward, and some even went so far as to question Ramsey’s ability to play Premier League football.
These complaints have become particularly acute in the last month, as Ramsey has returned from injury and faced a seemingly unending tirade of scorn.
But is the perception of his performance correct?
Let’s take the match against Bournemouth, in which he was afforded a starting berth in his preferred central role. Having had a few weeks to recover from a minor niggle, we can set aside rustiness or injury as an excuse for any drop off in performance – real or otherwise.
The post-match statistics show that Ramsey led the team in terms of total passes, notching up 79 over the course of the match, with a completion rate in excess of 92 per cent.
By way of comparison, Alexis Sanchez made 60 passes at a success rate of 73.3 per cent, Granit Xhaka managed 71 passes at 88.7 per cent, and Alex Iwobi hit 39 passes at 84.6 per cent.
In terms of his attacking play, Ramsey led the team with four shots taken, albeit with all of his efforts – two inside the box and two from outside – being off target.
The Welshman also led the team with 100 touches, ahead of both Shkodran Mustafi (89), and Xhaka (83).
In defence, Ramsey completed one tackle and one clearance, made two interceptions and two blocks to boot. His level of activity put him on a par with Granit Xhaka in midfield.
So, in raw statistical terms, you can see that some of the accusations levelled at Ramsey simply don’t hold water. In many respects, he led the team in terms of work rate and intensity. He was involved all over the midfield and attacking third, as his heat map (below) suggests.
When it comes to cutting edge, however, the criticisms have a little more veracity.
Against Bournemouth, Ramsey failed to create a single chance for a team mate, and didn’t make a single key pass either*.
To add to that, three of the top five Arsenal passing combinations during the course of the game involved Ramsey, but were combinations that many would consider neutral or regressive.
Arsenal’s top five passing combinations
Nacho Monreal to Alexis Sanchez (16)
Granit Xhaka to Hector Bellerin (12)
Granit Xhaka to Aaron Ramsey (11)
Aaron Ramsey to Granit Xhaka (11)
Aaron Ramsey to Shkodran Mustafi (11)
As you can see, a lot of the passes made by Ramsey were essentially square or backwards. While it is important to remember that you need a midfielder who is going to collect the ball from the defence, and someone who is going to keep the play ticking in deep midfield, there has to be a balance between possession and purpose, and what frustrates fans the most about Ramsey is his tendency to look back when he receives the ball, instead of looking for a forward pass.
Whether this is because he has been told the sit in the deeper role and build the play, or whether he has been told to cut out some of the more intricate aspects of his game in order to focus on the basics is unclear. It may even be the player himself suffering from a lack of confidence, thereby favouring the easier, less risky option of finding a team mate instead of moving into space or attempting a through-ball.
If he is going to get back to his best, Ramsey must find a better balance in his own game, allowing him to keep the play moving while showing the kind of intent and purpose that will help make the team as a whole more effective.
Overall, what this breakdown shows us is that some criticism is fair and can be borne out by fact, but the vast majority of criticism is based on perception and, in many ways, is perpetuated by those who succumb to consensus.
Ramsey has been subjected to a lot of abuse online from Arsenal fans – who have tended to make him a scapegoat when things have gone awry – and the constant echo chamber of negativity can colour the more neutral fan’s view of reality, to the point where it departs from what is actually happening on the pitch.
Olivier Giroud’s rise to prominence is a perfect example of this. Derided by a lot of fans over the years because of his perceived lack of quality, Giroud has, in the last 12 months, shown himself capable of scoring very important goals, and goals of outstanding quality too. All of a sudden, fans have taken a different view, and opinions have changed.
Simply put, it is sometimes better to take a step back and look at all the facts, in a more objective frame of mind, than to leap to simple conclusions.
Aaron Ramsey is not in the sort of form that made him a match winner a few seasons ago, but he is certainly not Igors Stepanovs.
*statistics from Arsenal.com and Squawka