By Robin Bairner | French Football Editor
Just as Robin van Persie has played a pivotal role in lifting Arsenal out of their early-season crisis, Andre Ayew’s double strike against Ajaccio a week past on Saturday has been recognised as a potential turning point in the stuttering campaign of Olympique de Marseille, who continue to loiter embarrassingly in the bottom half of Ligue 1.
Unlike the Dutchman, however, the young Ghanaian winger has not performed in a stellar fashion over the course of the season to date, and though fingers were not pointed at him in the formative weeks of the term, questions were certainly being asked of his form.
Ayew’s rise to prominence was quite remarkable. Though he appeared for Marseille in the Champions League as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, little came of his first introduction to the first team squad and he was sent on loan to Lorient at the back end of the 2008-09 season and then the entire 2009-10 campaign with Arles-Avignon in Ligue 2, where he did enough to earn a spot in Ghana’s 2010 World Cup team.
It was in South Africa that the extent of his talent soon became apparent. Son of Abedi Pele, three-time winner of the African Football of the Year award, much was expected of the Lille-born player. On the world’s biggest stage he exploded in the best way possible, earning a nomination as Young Player of the Tournament after playing a key role in guiding the Africans to the quarter-finals.
Buoyed by the acclaim he received after his summer exploits, his first full season in Marseille’s starting XI was to prove equally fruitful, and after helping OM to the Champions League knockout stages, no less than Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson offered his commendation of the attacker.
ANDRE AYEW | ALL-TIME CLUB STATS
Speaking after the first-leg Champions League last 16 encounter at Stade Velodrome last term, the Scot said: “Ayew played a great game, he defended and Nani was unable to pass through. He spent a lot of energy and really played a good game.”
Though this term has not proven so strong as yet, Arsene Wenger recognised Ayew last week when he hinted that the 21-year-old is a player he has had watched extensively.
“I like the player but we didn't approach him,” the Frenchman stated, before suggesting that a move may be impossible due to the high number of players who the Gunners have for the offensive midfield berths.
Reacting to newspaper rumours that the north London club may, nevertheless, be ready to pounce, Ayew has explained that he could be tempted to move to the Premier League giants.
“I would be lying if I said I was not flattered by [Wenger’s] words,” the Ghanaian told French radio station RMC. “Wenger is a great coach who has won titles with a very good club. He has done great things and has helped nurture good players.”
So what exactly could he offer the Gunners?
The ability to fit in instantly
There is a style of play that is well engrained at the Emirates Stadium, and Arsenal are now a team synonymous with exciting, attacking football that revolves primarily around a short passing game. This would suit Ayew perfectly as he is a technically adept footballer, capable of playing in several different roles in offensive midfield, though he is most effective coming off the left hand side.
It’s unlikely the Ghanaian would need to spend much time settling in to the London club, making him an attractive prospect.
Arsenal are often a side accused of having plenty of technical players around the box, but a dearth of goalscorers at crucial times. Ayew may not be a penalty-box poacher, but he is more comfortable in front of goal than many of the current offensive midfielders at the Emirates Stadium, while still equally able to bring others into the play.
Last term he registered 11 goals for OM in 37 league appearances, finishing the campaign as one of their top scorers. There is no reason to suggest that he could not continue that kind of form in front of goal in the Premier League, working in tandem with former Lille player Gervinho, who has made a promising start to his career in England.
An unusual combination of youth and experience
The desire of Arsenal to buy young players is well documented; “We don’t buy superstars, we make them,” the saying goes. By purchasing Ayew, manager Wenger could cover both bases. While the attacker is with Marseille, the French boss won’t have to pay an astronomical transfer fee – though with an estimated value of €10m he’s unlikely to come cheap – but on the other hand, he is a recognised player who is still young enough to be moulded in the typical Gunners fashion.
Ayew has been playing first-team football for four years, and his international experience is also significant, with the remarkable charge in the World Cup clearly a high point. Few players so young can command such a CV yet remain relative value for money.
A wonderful attitude
Often players who are renowned for their attacking talents at a young age can be rather lazy when it comes to the uglier sides of the game, such as defending or even training. Ayew’s attitude has rarely been in question since he returned from the World Cup, with Ferguson noting in particular his defensive attributes when OM met Manchester United last season.
The player has also pledged to redouble his efforts when training having heard words of praise from Wenger, admitting that there is still much he can improve on before he is considered one of the world’s very best. This is the type of attitude that should see him go far in the game if he retains his humble outlook.
Part of Arsenal’s problem in the early weeks of the campaign has been caused by players falling to injury problems, but this is an issue that Ayew has not encountered over the course of his career. Last term he featured in all but one of OM’s league clashes, and this season he’s missed only one match.
He is a player who has little history of muscular problems, and he’s built solidly enough to withstand the rigours of the Premier League. He may only stand 1.76m tall, but he’s broad shouldered and powerful enough to beat off the vast majority of opponents. And if he does get knocked down, he’s straight back on his feet to have another go.
Accused of lacking muscle to go with their flare, Arsenal could have both in a neat two-in-one package should they ultimately choose to move.
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