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Onwards and upwards

Good Friday to you. Another day of rest before we play West Ham and a meeting with Sam Allardyce’s side. Fans these days dread playing away at Stoke because of the nature of their game. However, long before Tony Pulis and his cap came along, there was a time when we were concerned about going to Bolton and playing Allardyce’s team. Not so much when he was at Blackburn but definitely a few fear when going to the Reebok Stadium during those period.

That said, the game doesn’t come till tomorrow and there will be plenty of time to talk about that. There’s some other matters to get to before then. Guess that there is no better place to start than to congratulate Kieran Gibbs on being recalled to the England national team setup. It’s an approving nod from the Roy Hodgson and his band of coaches over the performances of Gibbs thus far this season. A beacon of consistency in our strong-ish start to the season.

It may not entirely be down to just Arsene Wenger alone but he makes the final call on who to be selected and brought through, so I guess plaudits should go to him. The manager may get criticised a lot for some of his defensive purchases or selection but always seemed to get it right when it comes to left back. Wenger inherited the magnificent Nigel Winterburn and has since brought the likes of Silvinho, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy through.

The conversion of Gibbs from a wide attacking midfielder to a left back is another one of those positional changes that Wenger has managed to get it right. Due to his previous position, Gibbs will always be a handful bombing forward down the left hand side whereas his defensive qualities are more debatable at the start of his conversion. It doesn’t help that he was beset by numerous injuries and doesn’t get continuous training, let alone game time.

Towards the end of last season, his fitness condition changed for the better and there’s a theme growing on that front. If you remember, we used to have a Dutchman who always gets injured but that is no longer a claim which we can use on that particular player. The same is looking increasingly likely for Gibbs. Now benefiting from a full pre season, as well 90 minutes of game time week in week out, Gibbs is reaping the rewards of staying healthy. The call-up is the vindication of not only that but also the improvement that he has shown as a player.

There are a lot of areas to pin down but the main one for me is his assertiveness. What he shows nowadays is the way he dominates his direct opponent. Gibbs is far more decisive with his tackling which uses his better positioning and awareness to good use. Of course it helps to have a hard working forward in front of him who tracks back in Lukas Podolski. Yet, the highest compliment that you can pay to any defender is the fact that there’s no worry that he’ll get outplayed by any player and needs support to deny that player the space.

Another player who has shown an improvement this season, though admittedly have had very limited chances to show it thus far, is Aaron Ramsey. I don’t know what Chris Coleman is getting at with trying to remove Ramsey as the captain of Wales but putting the blame on his leadership is a poor method to disguise what has been a disappointing start to his managerial career of a national team. If this is not good leadership and maturity, then I don’t know what is. Just a poor decision from Coleman in every sense possible.

Ramsey got a late start to the season due to his involvement with the Olympics. Berated by fans (some) towards the end of last season, Ramsey is slowly but surely working his way towards changing such opinions. It was always going to be hard for him to come back straight to the side and performing just like he did before, after coming back from being hurt by a thug. Patience is not a virtue that fans are known to be associated with but it always worries me that there is sense of understanding when it comes to player performances. One podcast which I heard last season said that Ramsey is not good enough for us, just sums it up.

Now, I’m not saying that he should be the first name on the list if everyone is fit. He’s no Mikel Arteta, neither is he Jack Wilshere. Yet, I have no doubt that Ramsey will become a very important player for us, if not already. There’s a lot of him which reminds me of Paul Scholes in his younger days. The ability and awareness to break into forward positions from midfield are rare characteristics. There’s a big element of fitness involved in doing that. Something which Ramsey might not completely have last season and wasn’t helped by the fact that we lacked options in midfield last season. For someone who came back from such a horrific injury, perhaps would have benefited by having more rest between games.

All said and done, there’s genuine hope and believe (from some quarters) that Ramsey will be able to kick on from here and continue to develop to be the player he was going to be prior to that injury. It’s always good to see the younger players stepping up and staking their claim. Both Gibbs and Ramsey are giving us that.