07 February 2016

Ramsey's Barcelona trial fills with hot air after bossing Bournemouth...

After a series of dispiriting performances saw Arsenal slip from first to fourth, knives were being sharpened and expectations deadened. Four straight setbacks had journos penning post-mortems on Arsenal's title-tilt, on Arsène's tenure, on the squad itself. Against this backdrop, it makes all too much sense for other clubs to come sniffing around, kicking the tires and finding a deal along the lines of van Persie to Man U or Fàbregas to Barcelona. Speaking of Barcelona and of central midfielders, Sunday saw a resurgence of another coveted but mercurial midfielder: Aaron Ramsey. His performance against Bournemouth did just enough to tantalize us about what's possible. Will Barcelona beckon? That will have to 'til the summer. Between then and now, there are trophies to be won.

Sunday's performance split the difference between good Ramsey and bad Ramsey. At his worst, Ramsey gets a bit goal-hungry, understandable given his resurrection during the 2013-14 season when he had the Midas touch. Since then, howver, that nose for goal has sometimes overwhelmed (or is it undermined) his footballing brain. All too often, it seemed, Ramsey craved a highlight-worthy goal over the more-intelligent pass or the more-gritty defensive responsbility. In recent weeks, he's suffered some severe criticism made worse by squad-wide indifference or ineptitude. His performance against Bournemouth, however, reminds us of Ramsey at his best.

86 touches led the squad by a wide margin. Two key passes matched him with Alexis and Özil,  He also led the squad in tackles (5) and was second in interceptions (4) behind Monreal (6). Along the way, he poppped up everywhere without—and this is key—exposing Flamini in the middle. "Yes," you 'll say, "but it's only Bournemouth", and you'll have a point. However, players sometimes have to deliver such performances against such competition in order to remember and practice how to do so against more-spirited (ahem) competition.

More of the good Ramsey. Three times—Welsh Jesus, anyone?—three times in the first half, Ramsey exposed Bournemouth's defense. They might be recently promoted, but they're no mugs. Thirteen minutes in, Ramsey chipped it in to Alexis, who was clear on goal but who ended up with a tight angle. He put it harmlessly out of bounds. Not quite ten minutes later, Ramsey saw Giroud's run and lobbed it into the box. Giroud headed it down and Özil made no mistake. "Second assist" to Ramsey. Moments later, Ramsey slid a pass to the right for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who slotted it home to make it 0-2. Official assist to Ramsey. As an aside, what will that goal do for the Ox's confidence?

Back to the "bad" Ramsey. With the result well in hand, Ramsey found himself through on goal although at the tightest of angles, with Boruc closing him down. The smart move—the Epimethean move—would have been to cross it to Giroud for the finish, but that neglects the tight angle, Boruc's position, and Francis's coverage of Giroud.

So much the better, I say. Ramsey had a hand in each of our best chances, earning an official second-assist as well as the official assist, but didn't score. Paradoxical though it may be, that's perfect to me. This was a performance that should remind Ramsey of what he's best at—creating chances and disrupting the opposition.

Was this performance good enough to encourage the likes of Barcelona to come bidding come summer? I doubt it. Was it good enough to revive Arsenal's chances of winning the Prem? Of that, I'm more certain. If Barça want him, they'll have to pay out more than Real Madrid for Bale. If they want him, they'll have to go beyond Bale's reported £85m transfer-fee.

That's all I have to say about that.