Arsenal and Liverpool first and second! Who’d have thought it! Especially at the beginning of the season when everyone was predicting Mourinho’s Second Coming would gift Chelsea the league with Pellegrini’s Manchester City grabbing second. Even when Arsenal bought Özil, nobody really gave them a chance of challenging for the title but here they are, nearly a third of the way through the season, still there at the summit of the Premier League mountain.
And the reason for this (which you’ll already know if you read my piece for the ever-wonderful Bets of Mates www.betsofmates.com) is largely down to the re-signing of Flamini and the use of the role that he usually plays [for the sake of looking in-depth, I will just concentrate on Arsenal for this article].
Both players do a valuable, indispensable job for the team, playing the role of the Ron while Özil pulls off showy little passes and flicks. Yes, part of Arsenal’s good form is due to the lift they’ll have got from signing Özil and his contribution to the team, but he would not be able to play to his full capabilities if it was not for the likes of Flamini, Rosicky or Arteta sitting back in front of what is still a relatively flimsy and unpredictable defence.
You can see from the map of where Arteta spent his time on the pitch against Liverpool that he spent just over half of the match (assuming the middle 38.13% is split equally in half) in his own half in a match that his side won 2-0! This allows Ramsey, his central midfield partner, to go forward and score the goals that he has been scoring this season. Not only does that hanging back, hard-working, ‘Ron’ role allow Özil to attack (right), it has allowed Ramsey to do so too.
To contrast this, we go back to the beginning of the season when Arsenal lost 3-1 to Aston Villa. We see that their central midfielders were key players for on the day (as we can see from the player influence map) and they also spent a lot of time in their own half, although this may have been because they were forced to by Villa.
But when we look at their ‘player dashboards’ for that match and compare them to Arteta’s against Liverpool, we start to see a difference. The yellow line shows where the bulk of their contribution comes to an end, the furthest back defensive point and the yellow circle shows where the bulk of their contribution in terms of passes came from. As you can see, Arteta’s line is significantly further back than either Ramsey or Wilshere’s and his circle of contribution is also slightly more restricted. But I have also highlighted the gap between the defensive line and the bulk of his passes.
Whereas most of Ramsey and Wilshere’s defensive work is within yards of the yellow defensive cut-off line, Arteta’s are spread out from the circle – his attacking contribution – right back to the edge of the box, and further. He completed two tackles (the ‘X’s) in the left-hand defensive corner and occupied the gap between the defence and midfield whereas Ramsey and Wilshere defended as additions to a defensive line when a Villa counter-attack was taking place.
In Arsenal’s Champions League notable wins against Napoli and Borussia Dortmund, Flamini and Arteta respectively played this deeper role well; again, the yellow circle showing where their main contribution was. With Flamini, this is particularly notable, as he was very much occupying the gap between his midfield and his defence, in this case helping to keep possession and spread the play to either flank. With Arteta against Dortmund, we can see that his role was more defensive than possession based, again making key defensive contributions in his own box.
The deep-lying, ‘Ron’ role is useful because it gives support to the defence without taking too much away from the attack. These players are able to contribute if they want, but by sitting back they allow their team-mates to go forward without fearing conceding if they lose the ball. We have seen with England how they have looked to be ‘playing with fear’, scared that if they do something wrong it will be the telling moment that will lose them the match.
The Flamini role helps to take away this fear, not just for the midfield and attack, but for the wing-backs as well. A Flamini or Arteta sitting between the attacking midfield and the defence can fill in for the bombing wing-back in the case of a counter-attack, just by being that five or so yards deeper than a normal central midfielder might be. They’re also in a more defensive mentality, meaning that they’re on the look-out for a counter-attack whereas a midfielder in a more attacking role might be on the look-out for a shot.
The role that Flamini and Arteta have played for Arsenal this season is a typical Ron role (see original article if you want to find out more about what a ‘Ron’ is: https://everyteamneedsaron.com/2012/12/08/every-team-needs-a-ron-2/). They largely go unnoticed but allow everyone else to play at their best.
Given that the above was written before the Manchester United game, but I didn’t quite finish it in time to publish pre-game, I’ll quickly address it here. In the first half Arsenal were too wary of United, too defensive, and Özil, Giroud and Cazorla were starved of support and looked visibly frustrated.
In the second, Arsenal played wider which stretched United’s defence and created holes for Özil and others to play in. But all of this would have meant nothing if it wasn’t for (at varying periods) Flamini, Arteta, Ramsey and Wilshere playing in the deeper role, which was essential as Sagna and Gibbs were pushing very far forward to help provide the width. United won, but only because of a good header from a set play. Outside of that, United’s threat was largely nullified and Arsenal’s attack was, at times desperately, smothered.
So, the role of the Ron continues. And long may it continue.
What do you think about all this? Agree? Disagree?
(Screenshots from squawka.com and the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app, both powered by Opta and both fantastic places for stats and all that jazz)