17 October 2015

Return of Welsh Jesus: Ramsey resurrected against Watford...

The story of this one is that we eventually wore down a well-drilled, defensively tenacious, and physical side, one that bullied and pressed us up and down the pitch for the better part of an hour...only to fade down the stretch, as evinced by our scoring twice in under five minutes just after that hour-mark, and a third time shortly thereafter to close out the match. That third one, unnecessary though it was to the result, and beyond what it might mean for goal-difference in the long run, might just open the floodgates for a player who has beaten his head bloody against those gates for months, if not longer. On this day, Aaron Ramsey's squibbled goal mattered not a whit. Going forward, though, it could be massive.

Ever since his miraculous 2013-14 season, Ramsey has wandered the wilderness, searching in vain for the form that saw him score more goals in one season (16) than he had in all of his previous seasons combined. Along the way, we've had to watch and worry as he pressed harder and harder to score goals at the same rate or, failing that, in the same fashion. There was a time when it seemed there was no shot Ramsey shouldn't take, as he would almost certainly put it on frame, if not past the keeper. Ever since that glorious goal that delivered us to victory over Hull in the 2014 FA Cup Final, however, Ramsey has become a vagabond, even a pariah, as his quest to score appeared to mutate into a fixation that transcends the team.

Ironically, his last goal for Arsenal came some 1,103 minutes ago, give or take a few stoppage-time minutes, against none other than Hull back in May 2015. Even before then, however, the worrisome signs had already emerged: the ill-advised shots from distance. The overly-fancy flicks. Fluffed chances from in close. It seemed all to clear that Ramsey was trying too hard—and if he couldn't actually score, well, dammit, he'd at least make the misses look complicated enough to earn a sympathetic nod.

Fast forward from 4 May 2015 to 17 October 2015, and the promise and peril of Ramsey's pursuit become all too clear. Yes, in the 28th minute, he struck the woodwork, but it was a glancing blow, and it was from inside the six-yard box, but he really should have done better, shouldn't he? Who misses by going over the cross bar from five yards out, after all? Ramsey's critics were quick to light torches and wave pitch-forks, seeing further evidence to confirm that this is clearly not the Ramsey of 2013-14 but the Ramsey of earlier years, the one who cut an increasingly frustrating presence on the pitch as he tried in vain to help us forget Fàbregas.

Let's revisit that "wasted" chance if only for a moment. Those who slate Ramsey for failing overlook the work he did to make the moment possible in the first place. Yes, he might have done better, but he was attempting a sliding volley at full speed with the tightest of angles against an onrushing keeper. That he glanced it high off the crossbar isn't a character-flaw. It's a sign of ambition and effort. One element that's remained constant even as his finishing has fluctuated has been that effort. He never stops. On the upside, this means that he does get himself into scoring positions others can't or won't. On the downside, this also means he's going to fail more-visibly than many others do—just as he did in the early going on Saturday.

For our second goal, some may heave brickbats at him for his tepid shot, the one that was deflected to Özil, who then found Giroud for the goal. Will those same critics credit Ramsey for fighting to win a 50-50 on the sideline to keep the attack alive in the first place? Probably not, but that matters less than the longer term.

When he did finally score against Watford, Ramsey ended a drought that had lasted almost as long as Alexis's drought—if only on the calendar. Before exploding for a hat-trick against Leicester, Alexis hadn't scored since 30 May 2015—ironically, in the FA Cup final, just as Ramsey had. Upon his return after a summer off in which he exerted untold amounts of energy for his club, Alexis seemed to be pressing almost too hard to score, overdoing what once might have been simple. He's now tallied seven goals and an assist in four outings.

I'm not saying that Ramsey will be scoring by similar bucketloads, but there is something to be said for scoring that one goal. The pressure's off. He doesn't have to press quite so hard to prove that he can still do what he did in that one magical season. Without that pressure, he can and should feel that he can play with more freedom. One magical season can earn a player an albatross along with the accolades. Here's hoping that Ramsey's goal liberates him from that burden.

After all, we could do a lot worse than to support a player who's given and is giving his all for the club...