13 August 2015

Rambo to Real? Why not?

Or, to put it less dramatically, is there room in this squad for Ramsey? After an convincing string of appearances on the wing to close the 2014-15 campaign, Ramsey returned to his "resurrection" role of 2013-14, that of the box-to-box midfielder in the 2015-16 preseason. As with everything else, it was peas and carrots as we waltzed to a treble (of sorts). And then, along came West Ham. Like everything else, Ramsey crashed down to earth. Unlike almost everything else, he had resumed that resurrection-role, as the box-to-box marauder...only he made a meal of it, time and again. If the likes of Real Madrid or Barça come skulking around, waving some £60m under our noses, perhaps we should take them up on it?

This is not offered as some kind of knee-jerk reaction to the West Ham loss. Consider that performance instead as a case-study of Ramsey's role and the structure of the squad as a whole.

Ramsey is perhaps at his best when playing in that box-to-box role, breaking up attacks while also initiating if not finishing attacks. In that break-out 2013-14 season, he scored 16 goals, more than he had scored in his seven previous seasons. It seemed, at long last, that the lad had landed. Alongside the likes of the more-defensive minded Arteta or Flamini, we had found that defensive midfielder in the mold of Vieira, willing and able to bomb forward and track back with tenacity and ferocity.

Sadly, Arteta and Flamini have faded, almost into oblivion if not outright derision. As they've each sunk into obsolescence, we've turned to the Cazorla-Coquelin duo, with Coquelin breaking up opponents' attacks and Cazorla launching (and occasionally joining) our attacks. It worked brilliantly, to the point that a player we had all but given up for dead has become a saving-grace. When Coquelin last went out on loan to Championship side Charlton Athletic, it seemed like a prelude to easing him out of the squad permanently. After Arteta and Flamini went down, we were all but forced to recall him. By the time Ramsey returned from his own injuries that Caz-Coq duo had solidified, forcing Ramsey wide.

Since his return, and perhaps even prior, Ramsey has become a bit of a shot-happy glory-hound, and the results have been occasionally amazing but just as often agonising. He's delivered some of the most jaw-droppingly amazing goals in recent memory—but the Midas touch that seemed so much like a blessing has turned into every bit as much of a curse. It seems now as if every time Ramsey has the ball at his feet and can see the whites of the keeper's eyes, he'll shoot, regardless of who's between him and the goal, the technical difficulty of the shot, or the availability of teammates to pass to.

In the screenshot above, Ramsey is seen lining up a vainglorious shot through two defenders from almost 30 yards away (that he sends well-wide, by the way) while Debuchy charges unmarked into the box. Why not slot a pass into the box for Debuchy to run onto? I'm not harping on the occasion but offering it as an example of Ramsey's mindset. He's trying in vain to recapture the glory of that 2013-14 campaign, and that obsession is apparently driving him to distraction.

On Sunday, without Alexis, Cazorla moved to the left wing while Ramsey moved back to the defensive midfield. While this returned Ramsey to his favored role, it removed Cazorla from his. As it currently stands, our best midfield consists of Cazorla and Coquelin in the DM role with Alexis, Özil, and Walcott ahead of them. It's difficult if not impossible to replace any of them with Ramsey. His best bet is to forge a stronger alliance with Coquelin, but that depends on him supplanting Cazorla, who is not only two-footed (meaning he can pass in almost any direction at any time) but stays home in order to relaunch attacks, shoots less often and with greater precision, and seems more willing to sublimate his ego to the success of the squad.

I write all of this with a heavy heart because I do truly love watching Ramsey when he's at his best. However, I have to wonder if that one purple patch has clouded his judgment. He's no longer the underdog fighting to convince; instead, he's become a bit of a diva. If he can rediscover the fighting spirit that delivered to him that glorious campaign, we'll have to find a way to keep him on the pitch. I do believe that he and Coquelin (who himself is still evolving) can make it work. If he continues down his current path, however, a £60m transfer to Real Madrid or Barça  might make for a shrewd deal, especially if we can reinvest that fee into someone like Benzema.

What do you think? Is Ramsey an asset we can and should sell off, or is he part of a foundation for success in this and in coming campaigns?