Even in defeat, Aaron Ramsey again produced for Unai Emery. While Alexandre Lacazette gets statistical credit for setting up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal, it was Ramsey’s dart and pass that created the chance—the one of Arsenal’s many cutbacks that actually produced something. It was Ramsey who was unfortunate not to equalize at the beginning of the second half, denied by a fine Romero save. Ramsey has set up six goals and scored two in 888 minutes in the Premier League, working out to contributing over three-quarters of a goal per 90 minutes. He has been quite productive when he has started despite largely playing as a number 10, not the position he is best suited to; all of this despite Unai Emery somehow concluding that a player desired by Juventus among other European clubs didn’t fit his set-up and system. What Emery’s set-up and system actually is is still an open question.
With Arsenal out of the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup, there remains the challenge of finishing in the top 4, as well as the Europa League for Emery. If Arsenal’s inconsistency in the league continues, winning the Europa League will be a must for Emery; in either case, in games that matter, Ramsey must be the first name on Emery’s teamsheet, especially as Emery continues to exclude Mesut Özil from his starting lineup.
With Ramsey in the lineup, Arsenal’s attack is multi-faceted and less predictable. Ramsey adds dynamism and movement from a number 10 position, meaning Arsenal’s attack isn’t solely dependent on the wide midfielder slipping the fullback in for a cutback. With Ramsey’s secondary runs, there are more options for the player in possession, and more movement off the ball.
Ramsey’s work off the ball has also been crucial in a few of Arsenal’s handful of good performances this season, with his pressing central to Emery’s gameplan against Chelsea, and a turning point when he came on against Tottenham Hotspur at the beginning of December. Ramsey’s pressing from the front has generally allowed Arsenal to impose themselves on a game, a rarity under Emery thus far this season, but also a through-line of their best performances under Emery.
If Arsenal are to make the top four, they will need more of their best performances from the Emery era, games that see them impose themselves, not necessarily through good, aesthetically pleasing football, but through good moments and physicality. It is these traits that Ramsey brings to midfield, even in a more advanced position than his preferred central midfield berth. The same will be true if Arsenal are to win the Europa League: they’ll need to put together a number of good performances in successive games, something they’ve not really managed thus far under Emery.
This is where Ramsey comes in. In part, Arsenal’s failure to put together successive good performances is become of stasis; the stasis offered by a midfield trio of Guendouzi, Xhaka and Torreira and a back five, or the lack of movement from midfield. For these reasons, Ramsey, entering his final 6 months as an Arsenal player, should be on the teamsheet even if it would be highly ironic if Ramsey, a player Emery did not think fit his system, goes onto play a huge part in preventing Emery from failing to meet the target of Champions League football.