13 June 2014

Ramsey at 23 > Fàbregas at 23 (and other heresies)

Amidst the heartache and recrimination of Cesc's move to Chelsea, one source of solace has been the idea that we didn't bring Cesc back in part because our midfield is already a bit crowded and, just as vitally, full of young, on-the-verge-of-breakthrough players. Chief among them, of course, has been Aaron Ramsey, whose emergence this season has been as breath-taking as it has exhilarating. Perhaps even more jaw-dropping is the idea that his performance is just the tip of the iceberg, interrupted as it was by a spell on the sidelines that coincided with the club's stumble from the top of the table. As we look for consolation in the aftermath of Cesc's "betrayal," we need look no further than Aaron Ramsey.

Hush. Shh. It's going to be alright...
At 23, Ramsey has had the kind of season that most of us might dream of—except for that three-month spell on the sidelines. In that one season, he scored more goals (16) than he had in all of his previous seven seasons combined (13). Along the way, he's played all over the field—as a winger on the left, a winger on the right, at central midfield, and, of course, in the defensive midfield/box-to-box role to boot. It's in that latter role that he's come to shine brightest, as it's a role that makes the most of his stamina, his desire to bomb forward and create, and his willingness to dig in for tackles. Attempt to label his position on the pitch as you will, he's become a lynchpin, a talisman, a...a...captain?

By contrast with Ramsey, Fàbregas had already assumed the captaincy, anointed in the 2008-09 season at the tender age of 21. By that point, he had already astounded fans with his performances, whether they be measured by statistics or by passion, and it was in the following season that he delivered his best season for Arsenal, with 19 goals and 17 assists from 36 appearances. From there, however, there was a bit of a downward trend, as he tallied just 9 goals and 14 assists from 36 appearances. He would depart the club that same summer. It's perhaps ironic that, in that same season, we saw Ramsey felled by the infamous Shawcross Scything, a moment that might have foretold the end of a promising career before it could even begin.

Fast-forward a few seasons, and we face up to the cold, hard reality that Cesc ain't comin' home—not, at least, to the right area of London. It would be easy to see this as an opportunity lost. After all, he's still widely regarded as one of the world's best at what he does. However, his stats, inflated as they are by the wide-open nature of La Liga, fail to impress, and his performance, undermined though it may be by his inability to earn a regular role, beg certain questions. Has Cesc already peaked? Have we seen his best already? After all, he's now 27, hardly wizened but perhaps worse for wear. He was never known for his pace in the first place. He might bed in well with Chelsea's more-cautious [cough] style, but, by the same token, he might have been a poor fit for Arsenal's more-open, forward-thinking attack.

That brings us back to Ramsey. He's not only more dynamic; he's more diverse. Whereas we could count on Cesc to deliver scintillating passes and shots, his defensive role was always secondary. That's not a slight against him; it's more a description of his role. By contrast, Ramsey, deployed more deeply, offers passes and shots that might suffer in the aesthetic department when compared to Cesc's, but he more than makes up for it in his willingness to go end to end and to go in for tackle after tackle. Rather than force you to suffer my attempts at describing the situation, I'll hand it over to someone better-versed:
I watch the way Ramsey is playing now, how he looks so liberated, and I think maybe I blocked his way. Maybe I was an obstacle. Sometimes you need someone to leave for you to step forward and say: 'I'm here.' I'm saying that about Ramsey just as an example …Ramsey's stamina is spectacular. Ramsey is one of those that you look at and think: 'He doesn't stand out in any specific quality, but he does everything, everything, well.' His touch is good, his movement's good, now he's scoring goals too, providing assists. He's a kid who as a team player is a beast. Above all, he now has the confidence, responsibility.
That, of course, would be Cesc. Setting aside the grandiose "I'm so great, I prevent others from becoming so" mentality, let's admit what Cesc has pointed out. Ramsey has become (is becoming?) the kind of player around whom you build a club. The same was once said of Cesc. That didn't turn out. He went home rather than face the cauldron of leading a club. In Ramsey, we have the next captain, the next talisman, maybe even the next legend. In the first, the captaincy, would Vermaelen or Arteta really stand in his way? In the second, the talisman, who else could rival him? In the last, the legend, well, only time will tell.

I daresay that Ramsey, at 23, might end up meaning more to this club than did Fàbregas. That's a bit of a bold proclamation. Should Ramsey stick around, he might just prove those words prescient. Going a bit further out on a limb, the man might just help us forget altogether a certain Spaniard. I could live with that...

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