Arsenal fans really dislike Stoke, they really do.
Beating Stoke ranks among beating the likes of Spurs, Manchester United and Chelsea these days. It is not because of Arsenal’s struggles against Stoke at the Britannia or because Stoke is the antithesis to Arsenal’s passing style of football.
It is because Aaron Ramsey and the aftermath of Ryan Shawcross’s horror tackle on the Welsh captain that saw him miss competitive football for nearly a year. It is because after the injury, the media chose to paint Shawcross as some sort of victim. Out went the fact that he might nearly have ended the career of one of the Premier League’s most talented players and instead he became the victim.
But worst of all happened on May 9th when Arsenal took on Stoke at the Britannia. Every time Ramsey touched the ball, the fans jeered him, they booed him. Instead of showing respect to a player who had endured a tumultuous last year, they jeered him.
Personally I found it disgraceful. I do not mind if you boo the players or the manager, but considering the circumstances, it was crossing the line.
In that match, which Arsenal would go onto lose 3-1, Ramsey struggled to stamp his authority on the game. With the game coming a week after his exploits against Manchester United as he scored the winner, all eyes were on the Welsh captain and he did indeed disappoint.
This season was widely expected to be the season in which he made his breakthrough into the team. He was integral part of the side in the 2009-10 season but the injury had set his development back by a year. Arsenal fans were excited at the prospect of Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and Ramsey lining up the midfield, something that was made true thanks to the summer departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively.
Losing these two players hurt the team no doubt, especially the loss of Fabregas since he was the main creative force of the team. It is nearly impossible to replace a player like Fabregas with another player, simply because the quality of the player is just so good. While signing Arteta might not have been the marquee signing some fans wanted, it was a solid move, one that I was delighted with.
If you have seen Arsenal’s recent matches, it is evident that Arsenal are looking to plug the gap left by Fabregas as a team rather than with a particular individual. The likes of Song, Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky are bearing the creative burden as a team, which I feel is the right way forward.
Song has been playing higher up the field than before and while he has not been brilliant, he has done a good job, coming up with two assists. But more importantly he has not neglected his defensive duties and still remains one of the best defensive midfielders in the league.
But against Stoke, the star of the show for me was Aaron Ramsey. For quite some time now, he has been touted as the future replacement when Fabregas left Arsenal and with Wilshere injured and Rosicky unable to play the full 90 minutes always, he has been given added responsibility this season.
He has experienced a mixed season so far with several fans not impressed with his performances. It is indeed true that he has not played consistently at the level we want him to play and know that he can play. While he has had some superb performances against the likes of Bolton and Blackburn especially the latter, he did disappoint against the likes of Udinese and especially against Tottenham.
The burden of being the primary playmaker and being thrust into the action so quickly seemed to have been a bit too much handle for him. But on the back of two good performances against Marseille and Stoke, it looks like he might just be finding his best form yet.
Against Marseille, he came in as a 78th minute substitute and indeed proved to be an inspirational substitution. With a mere minute remaining in France he latched onto a Djourou cross to rifle home his second Arsenal goal in as many games to give the Gunners what looked like an improbable victory.
If stats are anything to go by and often they are, he has been the Gunners’ most potent creative force. With four assists this season, he tops the charts in terms of assists by any Arsenal player.
Against Stoke he showed just why all the hype regarding him was not misplaced. With Arteta playing deeper than him, he was offered his preferred attacking role, higher up the pitch and the freedom associated with it. This season there were several times when both Arteta and Ramsey were too tentative with their passing and lacked the dynamism and directness that Fabregas brought. But against Stoke, they showed that despite injuries, there is still plenty of talent and creativity in this Arsenal side.
With Gervinho getting better with every game, Ramsey and Arteta turned in their best midfield performance of the season, one that oozed with quality. I was delighted with Ramsey’s performance this Sunday because we all knew what he can do and finally showed a performance that brought the creativity that the team craved for.
He had no qualms in playing the lofted through balls to the wide players, reminiscent of what Fabregas used to do with great effect and picked out Gervinho in similar fashion on two occasions. While the first one did not result in anything, the second one was calmly turned in by Gervinho.
He was composed on the ball and had a field day along with Arteta. He did not give away the ball unnecessarily and thrived in the role he is best suited for.
Until Wilshere returns, Ramsey will have to bear a lot of the creative burden along with Arteta and Rosicky. He has the potential and like Wenger has been insistent, he will progress.
It was delightful to see that the team against which his career was put on hold was the team against which he turned in his best performance to date. With a passing accuracy of 95 percent, bettered only by Gervinho and with a total of 95 passes, Ramsey put in a great performance that is backed by stats.
With six long balls out, which all but one was successful, Ramsey added the missing ingredient to Arsenals’ creativity. It’s been interesting to note that the team hasn’t attempted the long ball technique often, something that works brilliantly with van Persie in the squad. He often dawdled on the ball far too much prior to the game, but when he did release the ball early it allowed Gervinho to exploit the pockets of space behind the defenders and the ploy worked well.
His two through balls was the best among his teammates and along with Arteta bossed the Stoke midfield.
It would have been interesting to see how he handled the physicality of Stoke and it would suffice to say that he came through the encounter, unhurt and with flying colors.
Such a performance will give him immense confidence and once again showed that all is not lost for the Gunners. I feel this performance will be crucial in aiding his development. The psychological impact from such an injury is profound and this performance will be a huge step in his development especially in the psychological aspect of things.
Arsenal’s passing has been uninspired at times but like Wenger said the confidence of winning will slowly rekindle Arsenal’s creativity and how true it proved to be. When the Gunners had a one goal lead, they failed to keep the ball for a consistent period but as soon as they got the comfort of a two goal lead, they kept the ball with aplomb, toying with the Stoke defense as the entire Stoke side were left chasing shadows. A two minute spell was there were the Stoke side hardly got in a touch and that showed that Arsenal’s passing game is still very much present.
Special mention must indeed go to Arteta who is proving to be an able link between defense and attack. Many have been comparing him to Fabregas, which is wrong since the two play in different positions. On Sunday, Arteta showed great composure on the ball. His ball retention skills and tidy passing makes you wonder why Wenger never signed him before. It was a lofted pass to Gervinho that allowed the ex-Lille man to tee up van Persie for the Dutchman’s’ second.
His link up play with the wide players and with Ramsey was tidy and he offers exactly what the team requires. He has a great understanding of the Cesc role and added the kind of creativity that the fans are used to under Fabregas. It is a real pity that Wilshere is absent because the duo showed promise in the rare occasions they played together. It appears Wenger made a great decision by buying Arteta.
How successful Arsenal are this season will depend on how well these two play. Arsenal are accused of relying too much on van Persie and they have been labeled a one man team. But Sunday’s game was a clear indication that the team is not over-reliant on van Persie. He is indeed their talisman and captain but calling them a one man team is taking credit away from the likes of Ramsey, Arteta, Koscielny and Gervinho, all of whom were instrumental for the Gunners.
People tend to forget that van Persie’s chances were crafted as a result of good work by Gervinho and Arteta for the first one and the combo of Gervinho and Arshavin for the second. Calling the team a one man side is a poor indicator of the state of affairs at Arsenal.
Ramsey is one such player who will have a huge role to play in how Arsenal performs this season. Being a team that thrives on their creative play and attacking intent, Ramsey occupies a crucial role and while the creative burden might be a bit too much for him to handle all by himself the likes of Arteta, Rosicky and Diaby are there to assist him. He will grow into the role as the season progresses and become an integral part of Arsenal’s success.
I have no doubt that Ramsey will only improve with time and will indeed become the force that he looks destined to be.
This was a test, the first among many he will face as the season progresses. The key to his development lies in building on his skills as the season moves forward and coming through these tests unfazed. He came through psychological and physical test unscathed and next up is Chelsea, which promises to be an even harder battle, one which will require him to play at his best.