Patience: it is not recognised as a virtue in football. Certainly not in the stands at the Emirates. There the regulars had grown tired of the wait for something to match the trophy accumulating days of the mid-noughties. Never mind hanging on for something – anything - to happen, fans like Piers Morgan moaned incessantly about the failure of an institution loaded with the necessary cash to make the investment to deliver jam today. Morgan’s tweets last season boiled with a fuming impatience. He wanted Arsene Wenger to accept that his time was over, that things had changed, that he had been left behind in the managerial race. The final straw for Morgan was when the manager signed up Aaron Ramsey – a player he had called “a complete and utter liability”- on a lengthy new deal. “How on earth did Ramsey just get a 5yr contract? Unbelievable,” the former Mirror man tweeted last season.
The new season has barely got underway. But already there are signs that it is Wenger who was right and Morgan wrong all along. Who would have thought it? The bloke who works with the players every day turns out to know rather more than a bloke who watches on the telly from LA: there’s a shock.
Arsenal on Wednesday night were everything Wenger has claimed for them over the past couple of years, without, it has to be said, much evidence. When they were losing to Blackburn and Bradford he talked endlessly about spirit and commitment. Nobody except him could see it. Many thought he was simply deluded.
Well, it was all there to be seen in the building site that is the Stade Velodrome. Arsenal, resilient, spirited and resourceful, took their chances to win a tough European assignment against an organised, muscular Marseille side: not even Piers Morgan could argue with that.
And at the heart of their performance was Ramsey. As he has all season, the Welshman gave a level of performance that few observers thought was within him. Morgan’s complete and utter liability ran the game, covering so much ground in the process he could match Mo Farah for his distance running. Plus, he scored again. Indeed, you could say that Ramsey – who has scored more times already this season that he had in the previous two and half years of his Arsenal career – has embarked on a scoring Groundhog Day. It appears to be the same goal he keeps getting, driving in from the edge of the box to slam the ball home from distance. It is the mark of a player oozing confidence.
So where has that come from? While it is easy to mock Morgan – and that should not necessarily stop us – he was by no means alone in his disparagement of the young player. The Ramsey of this season looks an entirely different proposition from previous incarnations. Last season no-one was claiming – as the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton did this week – that there is no better central midfielder in Europe at the moment than Ramsey.
Theo Walcott reckons that the player benefits from having the organising voice of Mathieu Flamini constantly chatting alongside him. Others talk about the upsurge in self-belief that comes from a sizeable pay rise. But to what did Wenger attribute the change?
“It was decided to be patient with him,” the manager said.
Well, he would say that wouldn’t he? Yet Wenger’s calm patience is getting its reward this season. It is not just Ramsey. Arsenal are at last looking like the team he claimed they always could be. Walcott has added a ruthless finish to his searing pace: these days he no longer forgets to take the ball with him when he belts forward.
Kieran Gibbs – who many a manager might have dispatched to the boondocks of the Championship after his horrible time at Old Trafford two seasons ago – is maturing into a proper full back, the natural heir to Ashley Cole in England’s back line.
And Ramsey? Well, buoyed by the confidence shown in him by his manager in the award of that contract so derided Morgan, Ramsely is just brilliant. His form is compensating for the fact as yet Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshire seem to be trying to occupy the same spaces as each other. When all three are firing simultaneously there is only one adjective that would suffice to describe the possibilities of that midfield: wow.
Sure not everything is great about this Arsenal side. Several issues remain which frankly might have been addressed in the transfer window. The centre backs look like a goal waiting to be conceded, the keeper is a slip of concentration away from calamity and don’t even ask what would happen if Olivier Giroud tweaked a hamstring. Even Wenger’s unfathomable reserves of patience would be tested were he obliged to rely on Nicklas Bendtner up front.
But what is clear is that there is a pattern emerging. Finally, it appears, Arsenal have a team that could mount a challenge. Arsene, it appears, knew all along. Even in football, patience can, eventually, have its reward.