Done? Fab. I don’t mean to overdo it, but waiting for Aaron Ramsey to return has taken on a new urgency, not least because of our loss to Stoke. How might his presence have changed things? During a match in which we (a) seemed listless and jaded and (b) lacked any real incisiveness in the final third, could Ramsey have made a difference? I’m sure his presence on the pitch—heck, even on the bench—might have spooked Stoke’s players and fans just enough to get their knickers all a-twist, and we might be celebrating a 67th minute crowd-crusher instead of fuming over a 75th minute give-away. As it stands, however, we’ll have to wait another ten days or so before Ramsey can return. Just in time, perhaps, to join us on a jaunt to White Hart Lane.
First, let’s get a of unpleasantness out of the way. It has to be done. A bit of a clearing of the air, if you will. It wasn’t so long ago that the epithets hurled against Ramsey were almost as venomous as those coming from Potters fans. I’m sure that more than a few Gooners are eating a few of those words and have queued up to apologize. Perhaps. After all, Ramsey helped to launch us at the beginning of the season and was in rare form, tallying 13 goals to go with seven assists. But it wasn’t just the scoring. No, his tenacity as a defender is something we’ve struggled to replace ever since he went done. No one else in the squad has quite the same nose for the ball as he does—not Wilshere, not Arteta, not Flamini, not Rosický. His 66 tackles are second in the squad behind only Arteta’s 71, who has three more appearances. More importantly, perhaps, is that while Arteta’s tackles frequently happen in our defensive third, Ramsey’s tackles happen higher up the pitch and allow us opportunities to launch quick counter-attacks that can lead to scoring chances before defenses can reorganize or drop back. There are few in the current squad who can match his drive, his tirelessness, and his contributions at both ends of the pitch.
For as much as we lament the inability to score, there’s a certain staleness in the build-up. Arteta and Flamini are too limited and too defensive-minded to charge up the field, and Wilshere is still too reckless, foul-prone, and injured to charge up the field without getting dispossessed. Perhaps Ramsey alone has the will and the skill to drive forward in attack and drop back and defend. Those elements, perhaps as much as more-clinical finishing in front of goal, have been sorely missing in the last month or so, and it’s little wonder that our dip in form has coincided so closely with Ramsey’s absence. We’ve coped admirably with the absences of other players, but without Ramsey, we’ve looked lethargic and paid for it.
Should Ramsey return in time to face Spurs, it couldn’t come at a better time, what with a string of fixtures that also includes trips to Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park either side of a visit from Man City. Depending on how these four matches go, we could be right back in the thick of the title-chase or again squabbling for a fourth-place finish. With Ramsey making his way back, I’m feeling a little less reckless in my optimism. Ramsey is, after all, second in the squad for goals and assists despite having been out since before the new year began. He’s missed fourteen matches in that time. Here’s hoping that the lay-off gives him the legs and the hunger he needs to finish the last dozen or matches with the same kind of verve and success that he started with.