Undoubtedly it’s been a tumultuous last few weeks (month, maybe two) for the team. The loss to Everton put an exclamation mark on a rough patch of form, but somehow here we are with the Spring sunshine in full effect and the Arsenal blossoming to their true form. 4th place rival Everton’s failure against Crystal Palace was unfortunately not compounded this weekend, as Moyes was once again made to look bad today, but in our world the team put together a lovely little 3-0 rout of the soon-to-be FA Cup opposition Hull
It was a strong away victory and a refreshing one at that. Hull definitely came to play, pressed aggressively in the midfield, and strode through with some very good chances of their own throughout the 1st half, but Arsenal was able to peg them back with a couple vintage counter attacks for a 2-0 break in the first. Notably, Özil and Ramsey both got starts returning from a short and long injury layoff respectively. While one might suspect the return of the £42.5m man would be the driving force behind the improved performance, it had to be said that Man-of-the-Match winner Aaron Ramsey was the true inspiration today. My love for the Welshman should be well-documented, but any objective observer could see the impact he made on the team’s play throughout the 90.
Ramsey offers a box-to-box player who can both create through strong passing, link play and creative vision, but perhaps his best attribute(s) are not captured by statistics. His runs off the ball, and his willingness to make forward attacking runs from the centre-line to the 6-yard-box, open a ton of space for our other attacking players. It forces the defensive opposition to either mark Ramsey, taking a body off of a player like Giroud, Podolski or Özil, or leaves Rambo to stride through and have a hit. His opening goal was a great bit of link play leading to it, but it can’t be understated that a lot of our midfielders would not make that same aggressive run deep into the opposition penalty area. It really opens up the attack and it’s no wonder we’ve looked so blunted on offence since his injury at the beginning of the calendar year.
The 2nd and 3rd goal involved Ramsey again, with the 2nd being a miscontrolled touch on the chest that Aaron would be cheeky to claim he had intended as a layoff, and the 3rd being a cool finish from Poldi after Aaron’s good hit from distance forced a great save from
Prime Minister Hull’s Stephen Harper.
Despite the long touchline spell, Ramsey had some great touches that were perhaps sharper than the Wizard Mesut’s on the day, but it would be inaccurate to say the German played no role in the shutout win. His confidence with the ball at his feet is sublime, and he looked to have a bit more spring in his step than before he was forced out of the squad by his hamstring trouble. In fact, he almost broke the 0-0 score early when he played a silky through pass for Nacho, putting the leftback clean through, but it was called back on a very tight offside call. It was a reminder he’s still there, still growing with the team, and unlike Ramsey – who’s been integrating into the first team over 5+ years – he is still finding his niche in an Arsenal shirt. There’s a lot more to come from this player, and I’d suggest anyone eager to dub him a “flop” after his maiden season in England will be eating their words by the end of 2015. (Probably the same folks who wanted to ship out Ramsey several years ago!)
Without getting too much further into the breakdown of the Hull game, it can be said overall it was a solid team display that looked much more “Arsenal” than we’ve seen in a while. We control our own destiny regarding 4th, and you have to think Wenger’s ability to deliver Champions League qualification will once again pay dividends, particularly as Everton still have a difficult fixture against Man City remaining. But, as Liverpool close in on the title, my preseason sentiments echo in my head – this was the year the Premier League was there for the taking, and we failed ourselves by not capitalizing on our league position in January by shoring up in needed areas. Winners don’t cry about “What ifs” and “We were unlucky with injuries” etc, and allowing the management to do it is not the kind of winning attitude Arsenal has prided itself on for over a century.
Three games left in the League, four on the schedule, with our big FA Cup final coming in May. It’s been a fun season (despite the latter-half’s bumpy ride) and while I think it will go down as a very successful one, it should not be viewed as “mission accomplished” even if we do win a trophy. Instead, it needs to be the start of bigger and better things including authentic challenges on both the League and European glory. You might call me “spoiled” for such a demand, but this is a rich team backed by expensive ticket prices, major commercial deals, one of the world’s highest-paid football managers, and most importantly a winning heritage with amazing fans that deserve the best. I’m sure we’ll get there again, but not without demanding the club live up to it.