04 June 2014

Aaron Ramsey, Player of the Season

Surprising no one, Aaron Ramsey has been voted Player of the Season, winning 58% of the votes cast at arsenal.com. After years of struggle, frustration, and looming futility, it appeared that many were ready to write him off, cast him aside, throw him under a bus, and then back up just for good measure. After the season he's delivered, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to admit that they were once clamoring and clabber-clawing to get their hands on the steering-wheel of said bus. Such has been the resurrection of Ramsey that we're all true-believers—and, apparently, always were. Along the way, Ramsey's rise has inspired notions of greatness, not just for the man but for Arsenal itself.

Not that such a return to greatness rests solely on his shoulders. It felt fitting for him to score the game-winner against Hull to end nearly a decade of trophyless seasons. His own trajectory parallels, in compressed form, that of the club since 2005 when we went from promise to setback after setback, offering tantalizing glimpses of what was possible before seeing it cruelly snatched or fumbled away, culminating finally in a glorious campaign capped by the FA Cup. It's safe to say that Ramsey has confirmed his status as a talisman, and his rise revives hope that the club itself can reclaim its status as the best in the Prem.

His devastating injury, of course, had threatened to cast a long, crippling shadow over his time at Arsenal, and his long rehabilitation only prolonged and then deepened our doubts, tempting us to worry that he would never deliver on the potential we had been promised—and those worries festered, just as our worries about the club itself festered. Would he ever make good on those promises? Would the club ever achieve anything ever again? The end to this season offers a confident, exuberant yes—with an asterisk. For as good as Ramsey was and for as good as it felt to win the FA Cup, I doubt that anyone is content. Ramsey, after all, went out in late December and, by no coincidence, we were out of the title-chase by the time he got back. How much better could his season have been had he stayed fit? Instead of being voted Player of the Year by Gooners, he might have been stayed in the conversation for Prem League Player of the Season. By the same token, we might have gone further in the Champions League. Better yet, we could have won the Prem. With a healthy Ramsey (not to mention a host of others), could we have found eight more points from January to May? Almost certainly.

In other words, as we worry about whom we might sign (and whom others might sign), there's reason to hope if not believe that this season is just a starting point for Ramsey, for other members of the squad, for the club itself. Building on the successes and learning from the setbacks has given Ramsey the grit and confidence he's needed to realize what he's capable, and the same could be said for the squad as a whole. Knowing that we fell short in the Prem due to injury rather than due to calamity or comic tragedy should galvanize us going forward. After all, when Ramsey was fit, and when Walcott and Wilshere and Ox and Cazorla and Podolski were fit, we were riding high. The form that Ramsey was in went a long way to proving his doubters wrong, carrying over from the strength of his play from last season when he was solid but not yet spectacular.

Ramsey's return to fitness coincided with a revival of our fortunes although not in time to mount a renewed assault on the Prem title. It did, however, propel us back into the Champions League and help us win the FA Cup. For most clubs, such a finish would be the stuff of legend. For this club, though, it merely whets the appetite, for we know that but for a few knocks and niggles, we might have completed a double. Looking ahead to next season, such a feat feels like a goal rather than a dream. If you had told me after we lost to Aston Villa that we'd finish fourth and claim the FA Cup, I would have been thrilled. I've maintained that the pre-Özil squad was a year from realizing its capabilities. With the addition of Özil, and with resurrection of Ramsey, we topped the Prem. The returns of Walcott, Diaby, and Wilshere, and with the addition of a few players (striker, RB, DM) could and should see us build on this foundation and achieve the kind of feats that had almost been consigned as ancient history.

Ramsey's anointing as Player of the Season may be an individual award, but it reflects the broader spirit of the squad, one in which each many looks to, depends on, and inspires the next; as such, Ramsey's award reflects that spirit. Here's hoping that Ramsey and the rest of the squad (plus a few new members) build on the best moments that they offered this year.

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