20 March 2014

Who's the next Gerrard—Ramsey or Ox?

First things first, I have to start off by saying that I'm not a big fan of the "he's the next _______" routine. On the other hand, I don't quite like the equally trite "he's not the next _______; he's himself" retort. However, when others in the know start offering comparisons, it's hard not to get drawn in to t and to consider the possibilities. It was back in January that Arsène compared the Ox favorably to Steven Gerrard, and we've since seen Ox play through the middle on a few occasions to good effect, whether it was scoring a brace against Crystal Palace or slicing deep into Bayern's defense time and again. Now, we have Ray Parlour, no slouch of a middie himself, comparing Aaron Ramsey to Gerrard. We surely can't have two Gerrards, can we?

Anything you can do, I can do better...
However, as Arteta and Flamini age, the club will have to consider its options for the defensive midfield. Both Ramsey and, to a lesser extent, Ox have shown that they can flourish playing the box-to-box role. Ramsey, after all, has tallied 13 goals and seven assists from the deep-lying position. Ox, having missed most of the season to this point, has managed three goals and two assists, but the assessments of Arsène and Parlour are perhaps more pertinent than the stats.

Back in January, Arsène said of Ox, "He has a good long ball, penetration from deep, and a good quality to distribute and penetrate individually. Certainly he has the same qualities to Steven Gerrard." Having played from the wing for most of his time at Arsenal, it's easy to forget that he was brought in from Southampton to play centrally in the first place, although higher up the pitch as an attacker. It's only been more recently—since January, in fact—that we've seen him play through the middle and as deep as the defensive midfield. Each time he's done it, he's delivered—the aforementioned brace against Crystal Palace, the dribbling display he put on against Bayern, the "assist" against Spuds. The sample-size is small, but the qualities he's known for—directness, penetration, pace—have been front and center each time out. For as much as we might crave his pace on the wing to run in behind defenders, he may just be at his best attacking the heart of a defense.

Not to be outdone, Ramsey has drawn plaudits of his own from club legend Ray Parlour, who wrote, "Aaron Ramsey can become as influential as Steven Gerrard. Gerrard was the best player I have ever faced...Ramsey was the perfect box-to-box midfielder in the first half of the season and I always said if he could score a few more, he would be complete.'' Well, perfect is a strong word to use, but if Parlour has any say in it, Ramsey is both perfect and complete. Done and dusted. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you—well, I guess I should expand. Ramsey may not be perfect, but he's been nothing short of a revelation in that first half, scoring, assisting, orchestrating...if it weren't for the injury, he might have been in the conversation for Player of the Season. For the Prem, that is, not just for Arsenal.

As delicious as it might be to imagine a midfield that consists of Ramsey and Ox bombing forward from deep, it begs the question of who would stay home to mind the defensive side of things. Ramsey might be more of a box-to-box player, as evinced by his team-leading 3.7 tackles per game, but do either he or Ox possess the inclination to commit to the defensive responsibilities that come with playing in front of the back four? For as much as we might lament the Arteta-Flamini pivot for lacking a forward-thinking element, we might come to regret a Ramsey-Ox pairing for opposite reasons. Then again, the dual threat they might pose as counter-attackers might make opposing teams that much more cautious about pressing up the pitch for fear of one of them taking the ball and marauding back upfield to score. After all, they've started doing so already. With Ramsey coming back soon, we might get a chance to see what the two of them can do when paired together.

As I started out by saying, I don't like to talk of current players in terms of who's the next so-and-so, but if we're going to do it, we might as well keep it in-house. Between the two of them, Ox might more-closely resemble Vieira when it comes to those blistering runs upfield; Ramsey might more-closely resemble him for his grit and eagerness to go in for a tackle. If there's a way to find room for them together on the pitch, forging a balance between defense and attack, so much the better!