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Despite the gloom that foreshadowed the start of their campaign, it has been a brilliant start to the season for Arsenal; one that has exceeded their wildest expectations. Spurred by the signing of the brilliant Mesut Ozil and boosted by the clinical finishing of Olivier Giroud, they have often looked unstoppable.
There is another player who has been brilliant so far for Arsenal: Aaron Ramsey. Indeed, in these opening two months of the season he has arguably been the best player in the league, let alone the club. Power, technique, movement, ability to score; he has shown it all.
Yet, twelve months ago it was the complete opposite. Nothing he tried seemed to come off and, no matter how hard he tried, Arsenal’s midfield looked weaker whenever he played. Many saw him as the symbol of Arsene Wenger’s failed strategy where too much faith was placed in young players even when these had failed to mature or progress as much as expected.
Ramsey’s highly promising performances soon after he had joined from Cardiff were largely forgotten, as was the horrific injury that had kept him out for so long and which, sense dictated, needed a lot of recovery time. Instead the feeling was that Ramsey was never going to be good enough to play at a top team irrespective of how much time he was allowed.
The same was said of Gareth Bale when he first moved to Tottenham. It was only after a change in playing position, and once he had re-built his confidence, that he started to shine.
And there are many more such examples. A lot of criticism has been directed at English clubs for their failure to use local players (although I appreciate that Ramsey is Welsh and came through at Cardiff) but fans should also look at their own behaviour.
Often judgements are delivered rashly and there is little patience to allow young players to grow. Social media has made it even worse, where the abuse to which players are subjected to is often horrific. Whereas an older player may have the experience to ignore comments receive, a younger one often doesn’t. Confidence is destroyed and performances do likewise.
It is why psychology plays such an important role in the modern game. Bale was lucky to come across a manager in Harry Redknapp who might have limitations but who undoubtedly excels at boosting his players’ confidence. Similarly, Ramsey always knew that Wenger had faith in him and his abilities. Otherwise the criticism might have broken them.
Managers must know what to say and how to act. They must realise when there’s a risk of burning out a young player and how to act with him. Keep on playing him and you risk further damaging his progress; drop him without reassuring him and you risk losing him completely.
It is in these situations that management truly becomes an art form.