04 April 2014

Rambo returns to lay waste to the Toffees...

Ahead of Sunday's trip to Goodison Park, Arsène has revealed news that we've been waiting weeks upon weeks to hear: Ramsey hath returned (-eth?). However, it's hard to know whether the announcement heralds his actual return to the pitch for Sunday. In a season undermined by injuries of varying degrees of severity and length, though, Ramsey's return qualifies as unvarnished good news. While it seems unlikely that he'll start, it does feel more likely that he'll get some minutes in ahead of the FA Cup semifinal next weekend. Still shorn of Walcott, Wilshere, and Özil, the emotional lift he could provide against Everton, not to mention the tactical one, along with the jolt of energy he could offer, is not to be underestimated.

First, if only to prove that I'm not whistlin' Dixie, here are the manager's words:
He has worked very hard for a while in training now. What he lacks is competition. He's an all-round midfielder who can score goals and always drives the team forward. He's a real box-to-box player so it's good to have him back. It's an area where we are short because we have many midfielders out. We have Wilshere and Özil out in this area, so of course it's good to have him back.
Before we move on, a quick apology to Nacho. Welcome back, mate; we may need you with Gibbs looking a bit gimpy. Sorry your own return is a bit overshadowed. I hope you'll understand. Moving on.

Despite having been out for three months, Ramsey still holds the second-most goals and assists in the squad and boasts the highest tackles-per-game rate of anyone in the squad. In fact, despite missing those three months, he only recently lost his hold on 'most tackles in the squad,' falling behind Arteta and Gibbs, each of whom has had six or seven more matches to add to his tally. However, stats tell only part of the story for a player who emerged as this season's talisman, whose early-season form had him listed as a Player of the Season candidate, even a Golden Boot. Eight goals in nine matches will do that to a guy.

Now, as unlikely as it was that he'd sustain that scoring-rate over the course of a season, it again tells only part of the story, as it's his ascendancy on the whole that pumped so much fuel into our campaign. I would hesitate to ascribe to any one player the ups and downs of an entire squad, but it is little coincidence that we've faltered more in his absence than we'd done during the absences of other key players. Forced to deploy the Flamini-Arteta pairing week after week, with occasional cameos from Ox, we have lacked the spark and hustle that Ramsey brings, not to mention the uplifting aspects of his stratospheric rise from his earlier years when fans regularly jeered, derided, and insulted him. I can only assume that they're too busy eating crow to apologize. Good manners, not talking with one's mouth fall, and all of that, I'm sure.

The larger question that I'm sure is on all of our minds is when he'll actually start. The optimist in me hopes that the length of his absence to this point signals that due diligence has been paid already, and that we'll see him log significant minutes, if not start. The realist in me figures that he'll sit on the bench and, depending on how the match progresses, make an appearance towards the end of the match. On one hand, he's probably even more eager to play than we are to see him play. On the other, short-term and long-term needs have to be weighed. If playing against Everton knocks him out again and he misses the rest of the season, well, never mind. Keep resting. Looking past the Everton match, after all, shows a list of fixtures that we should manage without exposing Ramsey to further strain. If, however, Ramsey was deemed fit a few weeks back, and the extension marked an excess of caution already, by all means unleash him. Seeing him run Everton ragged, what with his (presumably) fresh legs and their weary ones, could be quite the sight.

Whether he makes a full return against Everton or Wigan, the boost he'll provide for the run-in is welcome news indeed.