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Iwobi or Ramsey? Why Fulham selection will reveal all for Emery & Arsenal

COMMENT: And now you're going to believe us...? Eight wins on the spin. A landmark goal for the post-Wenger era. The place is bouncing. Emery's Arsenal are on the march...

That opener at Qarabag was important. But not so significant - that came earlier on Unai Emery's team sheet. When Sokratis Papastathopoulos bundled the ball past Vagner da Silva in the hosts' goal, it marked the first time since 1996 a player had scored with no connections to Arsene Wenger. The ties, ever so gradually, are being severed.

But it was before kickoff. When Emery announced his line-up. That was when you could see the sands shift just that little bit further. The manager is making his mark on this team.

With baby on the way and contract offer withdrawn, Aaron Ramsey was left in London. If the Welshman was feeling threatened about his place in Emery's immediate plans, he'd just done himself no favours. He may have friends on the outside. Heavyweights Sol Campbell and Robert Pires chiming in this week about Ramsey's on-off negotiations. But it's clear, Emery is moving on. Ramsey's decision to stay home only reinforcing the manager's opinion. There's others in this current squad. Players more open-minded. More willing to embrace what he's selling. Cue Alex Iwobi. The Nigeria international stepping in to fill the breach and producing a performance which included the assist for Emile Smith Rowe's first goal of his pro career. Never give a sucker an even break? Ramsey has just laid it on a plate for Iwobi.

We've dropped this quote before here - and it's well worth repeating. While Emery was talking as manager of Almeria some 12 years ago, the approach remains the same today:

"I like working with everyone!

"Sometimes a player just needs time. Veterans have a more developed ego and it's harder to get them going the way you want. Young people are 'virgin' products  that you can model more easily. With them, it's easier because they are hungry to learn."

For those Emery encountered at Segunda Division Almeria, you can substitute them for Ramsey, Iwobi and young Smith Rowe. One senior player willing to adjust. Another? Not so much. And a kid hanging off the manager's every word...

The crunch will be Sunday. High noon (well, near enough) at Craven Cottage. After standing up. Being fully committed to the cause. Will Emery reward Iwobi with a start against Fulham ahead of his more celebrated teammate? The good money is on 'yes'.

Indeed, if Emery had had his way, Ramsey may not have made it to the start of the season. Those stories over the last 24 hours about the Basque identifying Ever Banega, Sevilla's midfield schemer, as a replacement are rock solid. It was missed by the English press, but the Argentine's father confirmed earlier this week that Emery had tried to sign his son during the World Cup.

"Last summer, during the World Cup, Arsenal approached and he did not want to leave.

"He is very happy there, he is calm, with his family. It is difficult to adapt to other leagues. Ever is comfortable in Sevilla and preferred to stay; Sevilla is his home."

So there's a bit of work to do. But with the players responding to his methods. And the team now in a winning groove. Convincing Banega about life in London isn't as difficult as it would have been a month ago.

Including Smith Rowe, on the pitch in Baku there were effectively five Emery players. Two, Sokratis and Matteo Guendouzi, were on the scoresheet. And with Hector Bellerin kicking his heels on the bench, Stephane Lichtsteiner helped Bernd Leno to a clean sheet on his full debut. With German speakers Sokratis, Lichtsteiner and Sead Kolasinac all there to assist his young goalkeeper, how long before Bellerin - in the thoughts of Emery - goes the way of Ramsey?

We'll learn more about Emery's plans this Sunday. For the manager. For those upstairs. Ramsey has become more and more an afterthought. The team sheet delivered on Sunday morning will tell us everything about where they all stand.

And if it falls as expected, it should be marked as a warning to anyother Wenger hold-over. This is Emery's locker room now. No matter what the Invincibles think of you, a new attitude is required in this new era.

Inside the fourth minute at the Olympic stadium, Sokratis produced another watershed moment for this new Arsenal. Emery is shaping the team. The culture. Into his vision. And Eight wins on the bounce leaves those still resistant with little room to manoeuvre.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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