Could an Aaron-less Arsenal still produce the goods versus Everton?
When it comes to cumulative individual performances, value to the team and influence on each match-day there are three stand-out footballers in the Premier League of the current campaign: Manchester City superstar Sergio Aguero, Liverpool's goal-hungry attacker Luis Suarez and Arsenal's box-to-box sensation Aaron Ramsey.
The improvements made in Ramsey's play have been vast as the Welsh 22-year-old has completed 86% of his 1,027 passes, has won 50% of his 316 duels, attempted 61 tackles (winning 51), created 21 chances, hits the target with 68% of his 28 shots and has returned eight goals and five assists.
In his most recent game, the 2-0 home win over Hull City, Ramsey's displayed a trait that cannot be underlined by statistics as he was responsible for key events all over the field… he made tackles up and down the right flank, from defensive end to attack, he tracked back at left back and he was industrious in all areas in the middle.
While Arsenal have a four-point cushion over second-placed Chelsea in the division, have claimed maximum points (9) from their three games since the 1-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford and have a double hat-trick of crucial clashes throughout the rest of the month, it is imperative that Arsene Wenger keep his players fresh.
Football, in the modern Champions League era, is no longer a team sport but a squad game and so the importance of deep roster of players is essential for sides with aspirations of silverware come the season's end and Wenger has dropped numerous hints that there will be no fixed first XI but a team that will have no more than three changes from a game-to-game basis.
He has also mentioned that Aaron Ramsey may soon get a rest in order to keep him protected.
Last weekend, Wenger said on the club's official website: 'I have to treat [Ramsey] like all the players and give them a breather when they need it. I don't want to put too much pressure on his shoulders and we have a game that is based on team play. When the team plays well anybody can score.'
While Ramsey is on hot form, he has also competed in every single Premier League and Champions League (including qualifiers) match available, as well as a League Cup outing. In total, he has played 1,883 minutes of football thus far this season and, while he was substituted during the Hull game, he was only brought off after 80 minutes.
In order to 'protect' Ramsey… in order to get the most of the athlete for the duration of the entire season, it may be prudent to leave him out of the starting XI altogether, but will Wenger do so against Everton?
In the match-day programme midweek, Wenger highlighted the importance of rotation in his managerial notes: 'We are in December and the schedule is heavy and demanding. At the moment we have many games but I'm happy to be capable to rotate a little bit as you know, you cannot always play the same XI because that for sure doesn't work. I try to rotate a little bit without disrupting the balance of the team so the maximum number of changes maybe is three.'
Wenger showed against Hull he can make a bold swap while still obtaining maximum points as Nicklas Bendtner started the game in place of Olivier Giroud, a focal point for the Gunners attack. The decision was vindicated within moments of the opening whistle as Bendtner opened the Arsenal account by heading in a Carl Jenkinson cross.
Could Arsene therefore still ensure a win by fielding Mikel Arteta next to Mathieu Flamini while Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla and/or Theo Walcott get the nod ahead?
If there's one thing we can be certain of, is that there will be changes as Wenger remembers when the media called his side the 'Black November' team due to their stuttering form in that month in season's past. What the Frenchman will want to make sure doesn't happen is that this poor patch occurs this month instead.
It's quite a quandary for the man at the top of English football.
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