With Mesut Ozil making his home debut and Serge Gnabry having to become a Premier League starter for the first time, Arsenal's midfield had a fresh appearance in their 3-1 victory over Stoke City which took them to the top of the table on Sunday afternoon.
Mathieu Flamini's presence along with the in-form Aaron Ramsey, scoring against the same opponent from his horror broken leg in 2010, and England star Jack Wilshere means manager Arsene Wenger has arguably the most exciting midfield in the Premier League.
Here, we use Opta statistics to analyse the performances of the five midfielders who started and the conclusions from a display which was not faultless but had plenty of positives at Emirates Stadium.
The 29-year-old is the experienced head in Arsenal's midfield, with Mikel Arteta starting on the bench as he stepped up his recovery from the thigh injury which had left him sidelined up to that point this season. Flamini was therefore efficient rather than spectacular. His job was to win the ball and play it forward to Ozil, which he did on 10 occasions in the first half. Flamini gained possession three times before the break, completed two tackles and made one interception. The Frenchman was a classy performer throughout and finished the game with a pass success rate of 95.7 per cent, which was better than any player on either team in the starting XIs.
7 - Aaron Ramsey has now scored seven goals from just eight shots on target in all competitions this season. Streak.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 22, 2013
Sat in the deeper two of Arsenal's midfield five alongside Flamini but the Welshman still took just five minutes to add to his stunning run of goalscoring form. Ramsey scored his seventh goal from just eight shots in all competitions so far this season when hitting in the rebound after Asmir Begovic had palmed Ozil's free-kick. But he was also highly influential in the general play, touching the ball 25 times - almost double his closet team-mate - in the opening 15 minutes. Ramsey's lack of full defensive awareness was partially exposed, along with Kieran Gibbs, when standing off Steven N'Zonzi before the Stoke man played the ball which led to Geoff Cameron's goal. But Ramsey still made Arsenal tick throughout their victory, touching the ball 91 times - more than any other player on the pitch - and completing six tackles - another best for the game.
85% - Jack Wilshere was the Arsenal outfield player with the lowest passing accuracy in the first half. Mistimed.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 22, 2013
Started on the left of the advanced three in midfield but was seemingly allowed to roam. Wilshere, though, understandably still looked short of full match fitness after his injury problems of the past. That meant he was off the pace and had the worst pass completion rate in the first half. Wilshere also touched the ball just 32 times before the break, which was the fewest of all five of Arsenal's midfielders. He looked uncomfortable on the left and regularly drifted into the central area which gave his team a lack of width. When he was substituted for Nacho Monreal after 73 minutes with Arsenal 3-1 in front, Wilshere still had the lowest successful passing record of all of his fellow midfielders.
"There is a lot of expectation when you make a big signing like that. He is used to that kind of pressure," said Arsenal manager Wenger of Ozil in his interview with Sky Sports before kick-off. The German showed no signs of buckling under the expectation in the opening minutes, with his free-kick leading to Ramsey's goal. It was also only Ramsey who attempted more passes than Ozil in the opening half-an-hour, although Ozil's completion rate was the lowest of Arsenal's midfielders at 86.5 per cent in that same time period. But Ozil's set-pieces were a constant menace. His left foot floated the ball into dangerous areas almost every time and his corner allowed compatriot Per Mertesacker to head Arsenal back in front before half-time. Likewise, in the second half, he collected his second assist when his free-kick was headed in by Bacary Sagna for Arsenal's third goal. Ozil gave way for Arteta in the 80th minute to a standing ovation. Despite not being at his best, he had still played a role in all three of Arsenal's goals.
Thrown in for his first Premier League start after Theo Walcott picked up a knock during the warm-up but the 18-year-old looked at home on the right-hand side of the advanced three. Gnabry, unlike Wilshere, appeared to have been given a role to stay on his flank and he was disciplined in staying in the position. His work-rate was also excellent and he gained possession on four occasions, Arsenal's joint highest in the first half with Bacary Sagna. In the second half, Gnabry also showed he has the bravery to survive the physical element of the Premier League after recovering from a rough bodycheck from Robert Huth. Gnabry was taken off in the 73rd minute for Ryo Miyaichi having touched the ball 59 times and played 38 passes.
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