Arteta out, Ramsey in

Right, straight down to it this morning and The Guardian are reporting that Mikel Arteta’s ankle problem will see him miss the remaining four games of the season.

It’s hardly a big surprise, when Arsene Wenger called it ‘serious’ on Monday night I think we all knew his season was more or less finished, but even so it’s a blow when you consider his importance to the team and what’s at stake in these upcoming games. All we can do is wish him well in his recovery and hope it’s not something so serious that might will impact on his pre-season.

If it’s similar to the injury suffered by Andre Santos you’re looking at 3 months which takes us to mid-July, but Robin van Persie has suffered ankle ligament damage in the past which kept him out longer than that. In the meantime we now have to assess our options for Saturday’s game against Didier Drogba’s Acting Academy. And realistically speaking there is only one option, and that’s Aaron Ramsey.

Yossi Benayoun cannot play because he’s prevented by league rules from doing so. Abou Diaby played 45 minutes in a ‘reserves’ game against the Omani Olympic team but given his injury problems it would be a massive risk to start him. His last appearance was against Liverpool at Anfield where he came on as a sub and was then subbed himself 28 minutes later. Before that he managed a combined 26 minutes against Dortmund and Fulham in November, so expecting him to be fit enough and sharp enough to play on Saturday is unrealistic.

There are some who espouse the use of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in central midfield, pointing to a good performance against AC Milan as proof of his ability, but I don’t think he’s ready for it yet. The Milan game was far different to Saturday’s upcoming fixture. There was no pressure on Arsenal, we had nothing to lose, that is most certainly not the case this weekend. As well as that this may be a game where need to look to our bench to provide something and he is about the only player we’ve got who you could see making a difference.

Yet even Monday night was an illustration of how much expectation there is on him. Again we’re looking to an 18 year old kid to make the difference and while nobody is in any doubt as to his raw potential, the key-word is ‘raw’. I’ve got no problem with players trying to make things happen but he, and he’s not alone here, needs to realise that sometimes the best way to make something happen is to give the ball to somebody else and not force it.

So the only real option the manager has to fill Arteta’s role is Ramsey, a player whose performances have drawn criticism – some of which is constructive and merited – and abuse, 100% of it witless, mindless and embarrassing. I think he would be the first to accept that he’s not played as well as he can, his finishing in particular is a real issue because goals tend to offer a player some leeway. Thomas Vermaelen, for example, is a player whose defensive lapses are more frequent that you might like but because he’s full-blooded and gets his share of goals they tend to be overlooked.

I’m sure if Ramsey had put away one or two of the gilt-edged chances he’s had over the last couple of months then people would be more inclined to give him a break when it comes to other aspects of his game, which can certainly be improved. He does tend to hold onto the ball a bit too long and his decision making at times isn’t great.

In mitigation though, at least he’s getting into goalscoring positions, playing most of the season in the attacking role means he’s trying to make the final pass which may influence his stats when it comes to giving the ball away (and he is capable of creating), and he is a young player in his first full Premier League season. That’s not to make excuses, that’s to look at the entirety of his situation instead of mindlessly parroting stuff about him being ‘the new Denilson’.

To me he’s a good player who is going through a sticky patch, as many young players do, and I’m amazed when I read people criticise him for his attitude or application. His passing, sure. His dilly-dallying on the ball, by all means. These are things he can and will improve, in my opinion, but even when he’s not playing well he doesn’t hide on the pitch like others tend to. He wants the ball, keeps trying and if nothing much comes off his head does not go down.

That said, the only way Aaron Ramsey is going to convince some people is through his performances, not because of what I say or anyone else says, so the onus is on him to improve. If he’s being blamed for defeat against Wigan when the two goals happened when he wasn’t even on the pitch, he’s got a mountain to climb with some. But perhaps a bit of responsibility will do that, knowing he’s going to be relied on during the final weeks of the season allied with his desire to make a contribution will help him turn things around.

The crowd at the stadium have played a big part in the good results over the last couple of months and while many remain unconvinced by Ramsey he, as much as anyone else, needs support because what anyone thinks of a player is far, far less important than what we need the team to do in these final four games of the season.

What is vaguely disturbing though is the level of vitriol aimed at him from some elements of the fanbase. Gunnerblog wrote a good piece earlier this week and the very first comment was so vile it genuinely doesn’t bear repeating. For the most part I manage to avoid the rotting, pus-filled underbelly of Twitter but it just takes one RT for you to see so-called Arsenal fans wishing another serious injury on him. To borrow a phrase, these people are ‘vermin’ and quite what they think they’re achieving is anybody’s guess. It’s embarrassing that they’re associated, however loosely, with the rest of us.

So, let’s hope that the potential Arsene sees in him comes to the fore between now and May. We need him. And let’s not forget he played the full 90 at Stamford Bridge and that turned out all right.

Till tomorrow.

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