15 September 2013

Özil who? Ramsey pummels Sunderland into submission

It was brilliant and even breath-taking at times to see Mesut Özil on the pitch. Merely seeing him in the Arsenal kit was an inspiration, and the fact that his first two touches produced an assist on the game's first goal is an exciting glimpse of things to come. Just as important as his touch and skill on the ball is his influence on the game even when he
doesn't have the ball. So intelligent is his movement, and so threatening he is, defenders simply must be aware of his position at all times, and the disorder and nervousness that infects our opponents is going to create even more openings and chances. Into that breach steps one Aaron Ramsey, far and away the best player on the pitch. On a day when his new teammate's name was splashed across the marquee, Ramsey dominated the match and made sure we came away with all three points, good enough to see us at the top of the table, at least until the outcome of Liverpool's trip to Swansea on Monday.

In Arteta's absence, and as Flamini continues to acquaint himself, Ramsey's emergence as a generator and field-marshal has become all the more important. It should come as no surprise that, in addition to scoring twice, Ramsey led the team in tackles (7) and passes (88) and displayed his trademark work-rate and all-around play that we're coming to take for granted.

And so on a day when we saw the debut of the club's biggest-ever signing, in pounds if not in stature, the symbolism of Ramsey's display should not be overlooked. In fact, if Arsène himself could have scripted this any better:
  1. Sign young, promising British player (okay, Welsh, but still...).
  2. Endure questions and doubts about his quality as form falters.
  3. See his potential thwarted and perhaps sidetracked forever by injury.
  4. See him struggle to recover semblance of form. 
  5. Endure torrent of abuse around fielding a player of such questionable skills.
  6. See home-grown rediscover skill and confidence.
  7. Vindicate philosophy of making superstars.
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Now, of course, it's a bit early to be anointing Ramsey as a superstar, so let's just leave it at "he's enjoying a fine run of form". Three MotM ratings from whoscored.com in six appearances. Five goals and an assist to lead the team. A confidence on the ball that must be off the charts. Above all, and at the risk of drawing overly large conclusions from an admittedly small sample size (1/3 of last season plus six games this season), I do believe we're seeing Arsène's philosophy bearing fruit. It may be just one fruit, but I'm wondering how soon we'll see a bumper-crop including the likes of Wilshere, Walcott, and Gibbs, to name just a few. Each man has shown more than a glimmer of what's possible when he's in form, but Ramsey, week after week after week, has simply led the team to one victory after another. He's been a revelation, one good enough to help see the team to victories in 14 of our last 17 competitive matches (and draws in two of those other three).

Against Sunderland, his first goal was a wonderful volley, made all the more difficult because he was leaning back. Volleys are tough enough to time, let alone put on frame, and to do so with his body in that position shows that Ramsey has entered the vaunted zone, that Zen-like state in which one knows what is happening and what to do without thinking. The second goal, though it lacked for the highlight-reel quality that a volley offers, showed sublime movement off the ball (something we'll examine in more depth tomorrow) as Ramsey laid off the ball at the top of the box and darted in behind the Sunderland defense (beating four defenders along the way) to collect the pass from Giroud and finish coolly under Westwood.

Goals from Ramsey are gravy. Icing on the cake. The bee's knees. While it won't solve our striker-dilemma (Giroud, good as he's been so far, is only one man), a certain French manager can't be blamed for taking it all in and reading it, rightly in my opinion, as proof once again that he knows what he's up to. Blame him if you will for transfer-market failings (and you'd be right), but he's not the one who has distorted the market with oil-tycoon money. He's been slow to react to that, to be sure, but seeing Ramsey flourish shows that there's still something to the "we don't buy superstars; we make them" adage. Should Ramsey continue to show this kind of form—not goals, necessarily, but hallmarks like hustle and tackling and passing—we may look back, years from now, on the end of the 2012-13 campaign as the birth of a superstar. We could do a lot worse than rooting for that.

Between Ramsey, Wilshere, and Özil, the depth of talent and range of skill should leave you alternately breathless, hyper, and on the edge of your seat. Not one of them is even 25 yet, and they're each under contract until 2018. Sure, Özil stands apart a bit as the record-setting transfer, but what we seem to be on the cusp of a renaissance. It's a renaissance of method just as much as of outcome; the goals and the victories are sure to come, but it's through how they'll come that should deliver some satisfaction to Arsène, who might be humming just a few bars of Sinatra's "My Way":
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
when I bit off more than I could chew,
but through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall
and did it my way.

I've loved; I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill, my share of losing,
and now, as the tears subside,
I find it all so amusing

to think I did all that,
and may I say, not in a shy way,
"oh no, oh no, not me,
I did it my way!"
Indeed.