An odd quirk in North American sports is that at the end of their seasons, many professional leagues honour the "most valuable player" rather than the best player. It can make for a contentious and controversial award.
There is rarely a clear-cut definition for "valuable" in these cases. In a sense, determining one player's value compared to another's feels more like a complex algorithm rather than a simple judgment call. In terms of football, how do you really compare the value of a goal-scoring striker to that of a tidy defender? Or to get even narrower, can you really compare the contributions of an attacking midfielder to one who plays a more defensive role?
But it turns out that the number – and timing – of injuries to some of Arsenal's key players this past season provided us with an almost perfect, albeit unfortunate, experiment to determine how vital certain players were to the team.
So when it came time to ask our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada about end-of-season awards, we didn’t ask them to tell us who was Arsenal's best player in 2013/14. We asked them to consider which player they felt Arsenal simply could not have done without.
I've never been a fan of the term "most valuable player" when it comes to end-of-season awards time, as I find it leaves the definition wide open. Are we naming the best player? Is this the player who may not be the best one out there, but without whom we would not have been so successful? If so, how do we know we wouldn't have carried on just as well without him?
Luckily for me, there is a player who embodies all three definitions. Aaron Ramsey was Arsenal's best player last season, and by some margin. The once unfairly-maligned midfielder this season finally grew into all of his promise at once. His unparalleled endurance, willingness to track back, and running into space were already known quantities, but the player dubbed by Arseblog as "Welsh Jesus" added vastly improved ball skills, tackling, finishing, and a knack for finding space to his game.
But what stood out for me, and what really propelled Ramsey into star territory this season, was his confidence, an absolute belief that whatever he tried would come off. I look back at his goal at home against Norwich, when he juked two defenders out of their socks before coolly finishing. I can see the wheels turning in his head before he moves, and the sheer joy with which he plays: Anything is possible; there is no obstacle that can't be overcome. And you would expect no less from a young man who has bounced back completely, having come through a career-threatening injury and all of the fallout that came with it.
What stood out for me, and what really propelled Ramsey into star territory this season, was his confidence, an absolute belief that whatever he tried would come off.
Without Aaron Ramsey this season, Arsenal would not have been as successful. While he hit the heights, Arsenal were flying: top of the league, qualification from the most difficult Champions League group Arsenal ever had, and looking like this might be the season the league trophy came home to North London. It truly felt like anything was possible. Arsenal kept getting results, bar a few disappointments, and things seemed to be going our way.
We know we could not have carried on just as well without Aaron Ramsey this season, because... well, we didn't, did we? From the time he limped off with an injury on Boxing Day, Arsenal's season and title push started to fizzle. The midfield engine room, deprived of its star talent, sputtered. The goalscoring mantle Ramsey bore was not taken up by one or several teammates, results went against us, and the lead built over the first five months of the season was pulled apart over the next four.
Without the drive from midfield and assured presence Ramsey provided, Mikel Arteta was singled out, and without Rambo's running in the box, the press and even some fans on social media turned on Ozil until he too was lost to injury. In their eyes, the absence of Ramsey made our most stalwart midfielder/de-facto captain too old, and made our most influential signing a bust, seemingly overnight. Both judgments were of course completely reactionary, but they prove just how necessary Aaron Ramsey is to the team's success.
I was worried that when he finally came back, he would revert to the old ways, that he had been too good, that he would revert to form, but indeed Aaron just picked up where he had left off. He finished his campaign with 16 goals in all competitions, a career best and reason enough for celebrities over 65 to be genuinely concerned for their lives. And, oh yeah, he won Arsenal the FA Cup, snapping that streak.
If there's a logical argument for a player to be the Arsenal's "most valuable," I think it has to go to our man Rambo the Resilient. He fought through hell to get here. I think he's earned it.
Brett nailed it. There is no doubt that Aaron Ramsey emerged as Arsenal's superstar this season. His huge haul of goals, assists, along with tackles shows that this young man's work rate is second to none and as Brett outlined above his importance to the team is critical. Plus he scored big goals when it counted. That's MVP for me.
But I'd like to give a shout out to Koscielny. Koz played 48 games for Arsenal and in my opinion was the crucial component to the Per-Koz partnership which put in so many superb defensive performances this season. The 1-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane was Koscielny's best match of the season. His game saving tackle and a clearance off the line both ensured that Arsenal got maximum points over the old enemy. For that game alone you could almost give him MVP!
But Koz did more than that. He had so many opposition strikers in his pocket this season that I wonder if he isn't collecting them all like Pokemon cards. And while it was Ramsey who scored the winner in the FA Cup final it was Koz who scored the equalizer!
Come on, who doesn't want to dance with Koscielny?
The most valuable player is the one who is crucial when they’re on the pitch and missed when they’re absent. Aaron Ramsey epitomizes this better than anyone this season. His contribution at the start was fantastic and when he went down before the turn of the calendar we knew we would miss him, but probably not that much.
I did not expect Ramsey to keep his vein of form going all season, but the intangibles of his game became more apparent with every match he missed. Brett has really hit it spot on.
Speaking of Ramsey’s confidence, you can see what confidence does to player when you look at his goal against Norwich at the end of the season, “I thought I’d just take a swing at it.” I love that, and I want to bottle it up and serve it to the rest of the squad.
I will disagree with Brett in one area, however. I would not give honourable mention to Ozil. That’s not because he had a poor season, far from it. It’s because there is so much more to come from him that we’ve yet to see the caliber of performance that would see him be considered for MVP.
The views expressed above are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 4 Jun 2014