A fortnight after his return from injury, Ramsey showed again the impressive form that led the Gunners to the top of the Premier League last year. With his movement inside the box, the Wales midfielder proved Arsenal’s real striker in the 3-0 victory over Hull City on Sunday.
Ramsey is known as a box-to-box player and it’s no coincidence that he was at the start and the end of the three goals. He slipped the ball to Ozil, who found Cazorla on the edge of the box in the 31st minute. Cazorla played Ramsey in and the Wales midfielder outpaced Davies to fire home a low diagonal shot for the opener. Ramsey acted like the team’s striker on that play. He was in fact Arsenal’s most advanced player as Giroud was standing outside the box, next to Ozil.
Ramsey’s role was similar for the second goal from a counterattack. He was next to Arteta when Jelavic dived and gave away the ball to the Wales midfielder on the stroke of halftime. The ball moved from Cazorla to Ozil and then Giroud on the right flank. Ramsey made a run toward the far post to chest Giroud’s cross into the path of an onrushing Podolski, who volleyed into the bottom corner for a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers complained about a foul from Arteta in the build-up to that goal. If there was any contact between Arteta and Jelavic, if was really minimal compared to Elmohamady’s trip on Ozil in the 11th. The referee should have awarded a penalty for that obvious foul inside the Hull area but he didn’t. Any claim that the Tigers were penalized by the officiating is therefore ridiculous.
Ramsey’s positioning was different for the third goal. He initiated again the play but was not the most advanced Gunner this time. From the left flank, Cazorla cut the ball back to Ramsey, whose first-time effort from 14 yards was stopped by Harper with his leg. Podolski followed up and controlled the rebound to tap home.
A couple of minutes after Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Giroud in the 73rd, Ramsey could have added a fourth goal. Chambo charged down the right wing and was tripped by Davies while cutting inside. It should have been a penalty but the referee played advantage. Ramsey pounced on the loose ball to unleash a low strike that Harper saved.
The main danger for a young player with tremendous stamina like Ramsey is to be all over the pitch and burn himself out. He improved last season by simplifying his game and releasing the ball more quickly. Now, the next step for him is to adopt a more economical style of play and be more selective in his runs. His ability to read the game well should help him in that regard. How the Gunners perform next season will also depend on Wenger’s will to rein Ramsey in and rest him when needed.
Podolski’s resurgent form
It’s good news for Arsenal to see Podolski fire on all cylinders in the run-in. The Gunners are neck-and-neck with Everton in the race for the last Champions League spot and they will need goals to win matches and stay fourth. Podolski has been disappointing for most of the season. Maybe competition with Reus and Draxler for a spot in Germany’s World Cup squad is a factor in Podolski’s resurgent form. Podolski has netted four goals in his last two games. He could have opened the scoring in the 18th when he took a pass from Ramsey to cut inside Elmohamady. But Harper parried his powerful attempt from 18 yards.
Giroud was relatively quiet on Sunday. His best chance came in the 64th when he charged down a late clearance from Harper and hit the underside of the bar with a sliding effort from a tight angle. I thought he should have taken his chance when Ramsey sent him a ball over the top in the 69th. Giroud was in a very good position for a right-footed volley inside the area but he preferred to cushion the ball for a teammate. That was an odd choice since he was able to score with his right foot in the 3-1 win over West Ham last Tuesday.
Ozil returned from a hamstring injury and played for 60 minutes before Flamini replaced him. The Germany playmaker is so smart and skillful that he smoothly fitted in and was involved in two of the three goals. Initially, I didn’t expect Wenger to start him since Hull is a physical side and Ozil usually shies away from tackles.
A lack of defensive focus
Arsenal struggled to impose its passing game in the first 30 minutes and even looked shaky at the back under Hull’s pressure. Mertesacker killed a counterattack in the 13th with a cynical foul on Jelavic after Long stole the ball from Arteta. A lack of focus nearly cost Arsenal a goal in the 15th when the Tigers quickly took a free kick. Jelavic rolled away from Mertesacker to fire a low effort that Szczesny turned around the post.
Some poor marking helped the Tigers create a few more chances. Long outpaced Koscielny in the 23rd to take a pass from Livermore but missed the target. Then Meyler set up Livermore, whose low drive crashed against the post in the 35th. Arteta was marking Meyler but nobody tracked Livermore’s run. And a minute before Arsenal scored a second goal, Long got ahead of Monreal to head a cross from Rosenior, but Szczesny scooped the tame header.
The only scare in the second half came from a poor execution of the offside trap. Koscielny and Sagna played Fryatt onside in the 48th, but the Hull substitute could only send his header wide. Once the Gunners led 3-0, they pretty much had the match under control. The Tigers then relied on long-range strikes to test Szczesny, who tipped Huddlestone’s effort over the bar in the 79th and saved Fryatt’s low drive in the 86th.
Securing fourth before dreaming of silverware
Looking at the schedule, I think it’s good to have the FA Cup final as the last match of the season. That means it won’t be a distraction for the Gunners in the hunt for the last Champions League spot. They can focus on the three Premier League games left before dreaming of winning some silverware.
The Gunners definitely have the mental edge after beating Hull twice this season. But a final is different from a Premier League game and no team is safe from a blunder. I still remember the poor communication between Szczesny and Koscielny that led to Martins’ winning goal in the 2011 League Cup final lost to Birmingham. Hopefully, a more experienced Arsenal team will rise to the occasion in less than four weeks.
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