Where should our Welsh Warrior play and how do we get the best from him?
Aaron Ramsey may have just about the most copied hair and beard combo in all of English football, but that does not stop him from being a controversial figure at Arsenal.
At just 24 years old, it’s hard to believe he’s been at the club for a full seven years, having been lured from Cardiff at the tender age of 17 back in the Summer of 2008. Of course, his career has had more twists and turns than we see the man himself throw down in a typical match. He won’t earn the fantasy points for his followers but that was some tasty work he did to set up the first and third goals in our most recent match vs Manchester United. Just for fun, let’s take another look:
Ramsey’s earliest contributions to the Arsenal appeared very promising indeed until the brutal injury he suffered at Stoke City on 27 February 2010. It ended his play for that season and that calendar year. In fact, Ramsey didn’t play again with the Arsenal first team until well over a year later and then only in cameos. Loan spells at Nottingham Forest and with his youth club, Cardiff City, helped him regain a measure of fitness and confidence. Simply put, however, the Ryan Shawcross tackle which shattered his tibia and fibula took at least one and a half seasons away from Rambo’s promising rise.
When he did return to action, Ramsey became a lightning rod for supporter dissatisfaction with Arsenal’s squad at the time.
The summer of 2011, after all, saw the dismantling of our team via the twin losses of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and the departure of Samir Nasri to Manchester City. An August home loss to Liverpool and that famous nadir, the 8-2 loss at Old Trafford, led to some deadline day spending (notably the purchase of veterans and future captains, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, among others) but not (nearly) enough to mask the holes created by the high profile departures.
Basically, there were huge gaps at the center of Arsenal’s creative midfield play and Ramsey, just recovering from the big injury, was thrust into them. Talk about a tough spot for a guy at 21 years of age and one who had lost a year and a half to the major injury.
Arsenal were able to steady the ship that season and get up for 4th place and more Champions League football. Still, Ramsey’s leggy running, his tendency to take a touch but then need 3 or 4 more to get the ball (somewhat) under control and his obvious lack of full fitness and confidence to replicate Cesc’s command of our midfield or Nasri’s threat nearer to goal was a real come-down for many supporters.
Support for Ramsey almost became a proxy for supporters’ ambitions for the club. “He works hard but he’s a squad player (at best) and we need to buy a real #10,” was the main cry. That summer, we bought Santi Cazorla, the following brought Mesut Ozil, and the one after that, Alexis Sanchez.
Despite these high profile arrivals–and continued criticism–Ramsey never complained nor shied away from his own attempts to help the club. Plagued, at least somewhat, with recurring soft tissue leg injuries, Aaron Ramsey has given what he could to the club. His best season was 2013-14. Despite having fewer appearances for the club (only 34) he returned 16 goals that year.
But goals are not the only element in Ramsey’s game. Neither are assists, and compared to traditional #10s he does have a selfish streak and will take a punt from distance. Who can forget the volley last Autumn in Istanbul at Galatasaray? I remember one at Norwich from a tough angle and this one, versus Liverpool, shows what happens when focus (selfishness?) and technique come together.
Against Manchester United, however, the Ramsey moment which stands out will be the miss that might have made it 4-nil. With David De Gea reduced to watching, Ramsey volleyed over the top left corner when a ball guided into the bottom right might have been the better choice. At 3-nil it wasn’t a killer, but still enough for some fans to lament his lack of goals to date this season.
What do we need from our man? Is it goals? Assists? Maybe it’s a link between the back and the front?
If we want any of these things, it seems ironic that Ramsey is being asked to do it all from a position on the right. Playing ahead of a youngster, Hector Bellerin, who is quietly becoming one of the best right backs in England, Ramsey often drifts into central positions and even, on occasion, pops up on the left. Is he being irresponsible or is this by design?
My hunch is it is the latter and that Ramsey’s most incredible gift–a work rate that makes him just as effective and dangerous in the 90th minute as in the first–has been tapped by his manager, Arsene Wenger. “Run, Rambo, run,” knowing that Bellerin behind can do likewise, I believe, is the mantra here. Ramsey’s movement is at the heart of all that is impressive about this current Arsenal team. Moreover, it’s a big factor in getting all our other attackers–notably Ozil, Alexis and our strikers–doing the same.
This may offend those who worry about our defending from the front and ‘positional’ responsibilities, but, with Bellerin’s pace and the dedicated presence of Francis Coquelin at the rear of our midfield, I feel good about giving Ramsey the freedom to roam. He can step back and help out or he can be the link man (or a critical turn and go sort) as we try to strike on the counter. He needs to keep an eye out for another guy who also is committed to deeper postions, the incredible Santi Cazorla. Even as small as he is, Santi’s combination of exquisite close control, the ability to sneak in and steal the ball and the incredible range of longer passes at his disposal, mean others need to be ready to help–in one direction or the other–as the ball comes into and (ideally) makes its way back out of our half. Ramsey, in a free role from the right, is just that guy. His willingness to do just that also serves as inspiration for Alexis to do likewise from the left or Ozil and the strikers to have similar thoughts from more central and forward positions.
In fact, if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could take a page from Rambo’s all action running (and thinking) and marry it to his own prodigious skills (on the ball) he might well challenge Ramsey for that spot on the right or work well with him on those occasions when Ramsey is handed a more central role.
In my opinion, of course… 😀
What say other Gooners? How do you rate our Welshman and what do you think of his role on the right?