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Arsenal Analysis: The right-hand man

Arsenal Analysis - Right-hand man

So far this season, Arsenal's starting XI has been very predictable.

Last year Arsene Wenger chopped and changed regularly, rotating his side and discovering new talent like Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin somewhat unexpectedly midway through the campaign.

In 2015/16, though, it's been rare to see any surprises on the teamsheet: there's a settled defence protecting a clear first-choice goalkeeper, a regular midfield duo, plus Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil currently undroppable.

"Ramsey's tendency to play centrally opens up space for Bellerin, whose pace and attacking quality means he essentially provides all Arsenal's right-sided width"

There have generally only been two places up for grabs: upfront, where Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have been used at different moments, with both in fine form, and on the right flank. There, Wenger has used three very different players. Aaron Ramsey has started seven Premier League games, but injuries mean Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has started three games on the right, and Joel Campbell the last two.

All are versatile players capable of playing elsewhere, and interestingly, they've brought different qualities to the right-midfield slot. The differences can be summarised neatly by looking at three consecutive Arsenal victories.

Ramsey played and scored in the 3-0 win at Watford, Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for the 2-1 win over Everton, then Joel Campbell scored in his first league start in the 3-0 win away at Swansea.

By comparing two simple things - the way they combine with right-back Hector Bellerin, and the positions of their shots - you learn so much about the three players.

Ramsey remains the first-choice in that right-sided position, and while the Welshman insists he prefers playing centrally, he's filled in neatly in a wider role.

 

Aaron Ramsey

Aaron Ramsey

 

Inevitably, rather than attacking down the outside and taking on the opposition full-back, Ramsey tends to shuttle inside into a more familiar central role, in the right-hand channel rather than on the right wing.

Having established himself as one of the Premier League's best box-to-box midfielders in 2013/14, he brings similar qualities to the right-sided role, perhaps in the mould of old Arsenal favourite Ray Parlour. Ramsey's tendency to play centrally opens up space for Bellerin, whose pace and attacking quality means he essentially provides all Arsenal's right-sided width.

Ramsey's passes to the Spaniard are always sideways from the right-hand channel, encouraging Bellerin to charge down the touchline.

 

Ramsey's passes to Bellerin

Ramsey's passes to Bellerin

 

The positions of Ramsey's shots, too, are interesting. Having been accustomed to a more central role, he pops up on the edge of the box in various different zones, often towards the opposite side of the box.

 

Ramsey's shots

Ramsey's shots

 

Ramsey's injury gave an opportunity to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who interpreted the role in his own way. While he might also end up in a central position, the majority of Oxlade-Chamberlain's games for Arsenal have been on the right of midfield, so he looks much more conventional in that role.

His passes to Bellerin are entirely different - short, sharp combinations in wide positions close to the halfway line. It's a neat passing exchange, rather than balls encouraging Bellerin to attack into space.

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain's passes to Bellerin

Oxlade-Chamberlain's passes to Bellerin

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain had two shots against Everton, both from the positions you'd expect from a right-sided midfielder - and both were blocked, suggesting Oxlade-Chamberlain needs a little more composure, or an element of trickery to fool defenders, in order to become more prolific.

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain's shots

Oxlade-Chamberlain's shots

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain's own injury gave an opportunity to Campbell for the trip to Swansea, and the Costa Rican is a different player entirely - a forward rather than a midfielder.

That was obvious in two different ways - first, his passing combinations with Bellerin were almost non-existent, because he's simply not accustomed to being a regular part of midfield combinations, or encouraging a full-back forward.

 

Campbell's passes to Bellerin

Campbell's passes to Bellerin

 

Second, and more encouragingly, he was a consistent threat from long-range shots. Whereas Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide a sporadic threat with runs into the box, the fact that Campbell is a striker, and left-footed, means he regularly cut inside before pulling the trigger.

His goal, however, eventually came from close-range. Like in the centre-forward position, the interesting thing about Wenger's options is the fact the three players are all so different, which can only be a good thing - it increases the number of tactical alternatives, and keeps opponents guessing.

 

Campbell's shots

Campbell's shots

 

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