11 July 2013

Ramsey to Fellaini: get stuffed

Not really. Ramsey strikes me as a too polite to ever say such a thing. Stories suggesting that we'd bring in Marouane Fellaini have ebbed lately as media have focused more intently on the love-triangle that is us, Liverpool, and Real Madrid. Of course, anything involving Suarez is going to make for a some splashy headlines. It's well-worth revisiting the likelihood of Fellaini leaving Merseyside to come down to London, a move I've cautioned against in the past and am about to do here again—not to reject such a move outright but to put it in context of what we have and what we need.

Before going too much further, do yourself a favor and watch this short film from Culann Davies (quick warning: it might be PG-13 due to a few tweets that are shown as well as the song lyrics). What you'll is a strong display of talent, skill, composure, and, yes, grit, especially as Ramsey settled into and then claimed the defensive midfield role after injuries to Diaby and Wilshere thrust him there. We've sought a tough, marauding pivot since the days of Vieira. I'm not suggesting that Ramsey is his heir-apparent, but he's a lot closer to it than we might at first suspect. A better comparison, though, might be to Ray Parlour: tenacious, unassuming, relentless. For a man with all of the intimidating qualities of an accountant, it's surprising to see how well Ramsey will go in for a tackle and how successful he is at it. Ramsey's biggest flaws seem to be (a) letting Shawcross break his ankle and (b) not being Fabregas. It seems he's moved past (a). Check the video at 4:04 and tell me you didn't flinch. Ramsey didn't. As for (b), the comparisons were never fair, either for his playing style or for sentimental reasons. By the time he had left, Fabregas had carved out a strong relationship with Gooners. When Ramsey tried to fill that void, I wonder if some of us viewed him as an interloper. It's a feeling that might be similar to when a friend gets a divorce and introduces you to his new girlfriend a little too soon—there's an uneasiness, maybe even a jealousy, no matter how cute or nice the new girl is: she'll never be quite as good as the ex. That's not Ramsey's fault, though, but he did try too hard to be Fabregas. Now that he's being himself, we're starting to see the emergence of a very good player.

According to whoscored.com, he's good for two tackles a game, comparable to Fellaini's 2.6—and he fouls half as often as Fellaini, 1.3 to 2.6 per game. To me, Ramsey checks all of the boxes: pressing, tackling, passing. His stamina and technique (at 22) are remarkable. Were it not for a few poor touches or bad decisions by teammates, we might be talking about how all those assists he created. As it stands, he created more scoring chances (44) from his position than Fellaini created (40) from his.

There's a certain "bull in a china-shop" element to Fellaini's game, and maybe Arsenal could do with a little more of that. However, I don't see the man as a good fit—overly aggressive, a bit clumsy, lacking technical skill. He's done well for Everton, well enough to be valued at £25m or so, and he could very well be a difference-maker. However, there's a lot we don't know about his defensive abilities or how well he'd fit the defensive midfield role. Having played almost exclusively as an attacking midfielder, it's hard to extrapolate from his stats or performance to imagine how'd he do. Would he drift too far forward? His passing and work-rate, not to mention his speed (lack thereof), suggest gaps in his game that make me wary. We're the only club (other than Everton, of course) who are strongly linked to his future.  With that in mind, then, I'd suggest we hold off on him and prioritize other targets—Higuain, Rooney, Cesar, maybe a defender versatile enough to play center and right. If Fellaini's value starts to sag a little as the transfer-window passes, maybe he can be had for £15-18m.

After all, his former teammate Mikel Arteta is 31, not that he shows any signs of slowing down. Their time together at Everton could make for a smoother transition. I'm still not sold on it. I've come around on Rooney, but I need more convincing on Fellaini. Lay it on me. Why should we sign him—and how much should we be willing to pay?

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