Alan Pardew seems to be on a mission to prove a point. Or at least make sure everyone is looking at him as often as possible. He's committed to disruptive innovation...
Mesut Ozil was sold as the man that lifted the gloom at Arsenal, but recently something just isn't right. Is he not that good? Is he tired? Could it be that he's just a bit sad?
Beyond the most basic and inarguable of facts, football doesn't really do agreement. Yes it does. No it doesn't. You see? A hero to some is a joke to others. A genius to some is a chancer to others. His Rafa Benitez may be her...well, Rafa Benitez. But the first month or so of the season have seen all manner of folks come together and acknowledge as one: isn't it nice to see Aaron Ramsey doing so well?
Even the most hard-hearted Tottenham fan, deep in the bile-encrusted depths of their soul, is having to grudgingly admit that, yes, at the moment, Ramsey is slightly less despicable than the rest of them. Even the most cosmically-misguided Stoke fan is having to come to terms with the fact that the booing the other day was less about any lingering and peculiar animosity, and more just because that's how football fans relate to football players these days. And even the most childish and knee-jerk of Arsenal fans are doing their very best to forget about all the times they called for Ramsey to be handed his P45 and told to clear his desk. Er, locker.
Obviously, as footballers go, Ramsey tacks toward the more tolerable end of the scale, and is one of very few Premier League players not to have their own name tattooed somewhere on their body. When playing well he is the very image of the ultra-modern midfielder: versatile, energetic, imaginative, technically capable, and parted neatly to one side. This might sound a touch hysterical, but on current form it would be hard to argue that he isn't among the best three players in the world, and of the other two, Leo Messi is injured, and Nicklas Bendtner can't even get a game.
But this heart-warming state of affairs isn't down to the obvious charms and talent of the Welsh...hang on. A problem. He's not really a Wizard, is he? With the exception of John Charles, who was canny enough to pick up an Italian nickname, one of the great unwritten rules of Welsh football is that all the really good players have to be Wizards. Alliteration is the one true magic, yet Ramsey's not really about the showy stuff, and so we need something else. Warrior? Doesn't quite work, and plus it runs the risk of reducing the entire nation to fantasy-novel archetypes, which might be accurate but probably isn't politic. Workhorse? Wanderer? There must be something. Whirligig?
Anyway, it's not just about the Welsh No-Longer-A-Whipping Boy. It's about injuries, which are perhaps the one in-game occurrence that transcends the usual business of chirp and needle. There are rules about injuries - not always honoured, but generally accepted. Players aren't supposed to set out to inflict them on their fellow professionals. Fans aren't supposed to wish them on opponents. Nobody is supposed to be pleased when they happen. If there's an advantage to be taken, it should be done gracefully, not by dancing around and shouting "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA YOUR BEST PLAYER'S LEG'S FALLEN OFF HAHAHAHOHOHOHEEHEEHEELOL," however tempting that might be.
Injuries are privileged in this way not because they are uniquely unfortunate; many things that happen on a football pitch are unfortunate, and many of those unfortunate things are very funny indeed. Nor is it because they are fundamentally serious; though some, like Ramsey's, can set careers back, most don't approach such significance. It's because they feel unfair in a fundamentally non-game way. Of all the things that are supposed to happen to a footballer, limping off isn't one, and whether it be the tiniest niggle or the most serious snap, it runs entirely counter to how the game should be. Which is why, when a serious injury has effects that last for years, the eventual relief isn't just confined to the player and his fans. There is the sense that a wrong is being righted, that then game is being karmically rebalanced. In some ways, this is quite cheering.
In other ways, though, it's all a bit unsettling. Smiling when a team you don't like scores a goal? Finding joy from the exploits of a player who is, inescapably, playing for Arsenal? Weird. Double-weird. Super-weird. Possibly immoral. Fortunately for everybody, it won't last for ever. A couple more months of decent form and the post-healing afterglow will be gone. He'll be just another footballer, and that can't come soon enough. It's nice we can all get along like this. But really, let's not make a habit of it.