10 December 2014

Ramsey's Resurgence (or how 2013 almost ruined him).

By now, you've seen or at least heard of the astounding goal Aaron Ramsey scored in the first half of Galatasaray. If you haven't, it is perhaps because you live under a rock in the back of a very deep, dark, and dank and cave that lacks reliable wi-fi, in which I have several questions. These, sadly, will have to wait. For now, we'll have to content ourselves with looks to be Aaron Ramsey's resurgence, or perhaps his resurrection. "Welsh Jesus," and all. This wonder-strike may serve as the most vital sign of his return to form. Yes, it was against a Galatsaray in disarray (pity that doesn't rhyme better...), but it's often against such opponents that an out-of-form player has a breakthrough. So it may be with Ramsey.

By the time he launched that missile from roughly 30 yards out, a clinically perfect volley that may go down as one of the most-emphatic goals we've seen scored in a while, Ramsey had already tallied an earlier, daintier goal and assisted on Podolski's first goal. Scanning back a few matches, he's now scored three and added two assists in his last three matches. His goal against Stoke may have lacked for beauty or brilliance, but it found the back of the yet. Beyond that, he manufactured the pass that allowed Alexis to finally pierce Southampton's Forster, who was having one of the most amazing performances a keeper could have. Those last two came against two of the stingiest defenses in the Prem, for what that's worth. Could we be seeing a return to the kind of form that made Ramsey so revelatory in the first half of last season.

Surely, you remember as well as I do. He was living a charmed, Midas-like existence in which it seemed every shot found the back of the net, every pass led to a clear-cut chance for someone else, every challenge dispossessed an opponent and...and...I exaggerate, of course, but the point is still there. He was in the form of his life, finally living up to and perhaps exceeding the expectations that had formed around him since he first joined the club. However, such a run of form could very well ruin a career as it's difficult, if not impossible, to sustain for very long. The purplest of patches will eventually fade, leaving a man bereft and rather desperately chasing and clutching vainly at dreams—and I do appeal to two senses of "vainly": one, that it's futile, even foolish; and two, that it derives from narcissistic, excessive concern for one's appearance. I'm not referring to hairstyles.

By Boxing Day, Ramsey had tallied 13 goals and seven assists. It seemed he had finally found his role after bouncing around among various positions, playing all over the pitch and never quite fitting in, frustrating and infuriating Gooners to no end with his unfulfilled potential. In the first half of 2013, he finally found his niche playing alongside Arteta, but it was his hustle and hardwork that defined him, not the goals of the glitz. His start to the 2013-14 campaign saw him add the key ingredient—goals—and it looked like he might lead us to a Prem title. After all, we did stay atop the Prem for 128 days. Then, of course, he redlined, suffering a thigh-muscle strain that not only knocked him for both legs against Bayern but also for 14 Prem matches. We faded from first to fourth, and while correlation is not causation, it must have been hard for Ramsey to resist blaming himself for our stumbling. He came back in fine form, it must be noted, going for three goals and three assists in seven appearances, including of course the FA Cup winner against Hull.

The sum total of all of this must have amounted to an Atlas-like burden on Ramsey, and the strain seemed to show with each splayed shot or overweening dribble. Striving to find the kind of form he enjoyed in the first half of last season, it looked as if Ramsey was overdoing it, going for the killer-pass when a simpler one would do, getting forward looking for shots only to waste them while neglecting his deeper-lying duties. He couldn't find the elusive moments, the spin-move or the dance-in-the-box goal against Norwich, the volley against Liverpool, or any of the other moments that earned him so many accolades and awards. He was, as my students say, doing too much. Instead of keeping it simple, he was trying to hard, and it showed in his subpar performances. With each match that passed without a goal or an assist—twelve, since his assist in our 2-2 draw with Man City back in mid-September—the pressure on him mounted, both the pressure he put on himself as well as the pressure heaped on him from elsewhere.

This is not to suggest that he'll go off on another scoring spree, although maybe he will. If I have my numbers right, we have 23 Prem fixtures left, plus two Champions League matches (if not more). If Ramsey has gone for three goals and two assists in his last three appearances, well, the only logical conclusion is that he'll go for 25 more goals and 16 assists. Well, make it 17. No pressure.

More seriously, while I doubt that we'll see Ramsey return to the kind of form that saw him score at a rate that merited a mention as a Golden Boot candidate, I do think we'll see him chip in with 15-18 goals and 7-10 assists. If I'm wrong, I might be erring on the side of caution. Time will tell.