While most players tend to experience some period of increased turbulence during their careers, Arsenal’s prodigious Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey may like to think he’s had more than his fair share during his time in the game. Considering the Caerphilly-born talent celebrated what was only his 22nd birthday last month, there’s perhaps a lot to be said in that last statement.
Having made his debut for Cardiff City as a 16-year-old, Ramsey went on to become the second-youngest player in history to play in an FA Cup final, before making a high-profile £4.8million move to Arsenal in 2008. Of course, after breaking into the first team and producing a string of superb performances, disaster struck in the form of the now infamous Ryan Shawcross tackle that inflicted Ramsey with a compound fracture of his right leg.
Indeed, merely recovering from an injury of that magnitude to return to the footballing world offers enough of an obstacle to overcome at any point in your career, let alone when you just hit 19. But while the challenge he now faces may feel incomparable to that broken leg, for Aaron Ramsey, the fight to turn his Arsenal career around is now a challenge on a similar plateau of difficulty.
All those connected with the club breathed a collective sigh of relief last season, as Ramsey went on to emphatically reject any lingering worries that may have existed after injury. While loan spells at Nottingham Forest and a brief return to Cardiff City gave a tentative reassurance that Ramsey hadn’t returned from injury as drastically damaged goods, it was his first full season back that was always going to be the barometer of success. And in many respects, he passed that test with flying colours.
Ramsey racked up 44 appearances in all competitions last term, scoring three and setting up eight goals along the way to shatter any murmurs that may have lingered upon his ability to still play at the top level. The Welshman hadn’t lost his effervescent engine, his range of passing and he certainly didn’t back out of many tackles.
The issue of course wasn’t much to do with his ability to play in the Premier League, more of his ability to cut it within this Arsenal team and while his fitness was irrepressible, the performances weren’t perhaps quite there just yet. But given the nature of what Ramsey had overcome and the several glimpses of ability he’d shown throughout the season, the general school of thought was to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Yet half-way through the 2012-13 season, and you can’t help but feel Ramsey’s stuck in something of a Groundhog Day scenario at the Emirates. The feeling from the Gunners’ support has hardly turned toxic towards the former Wales captain, but he’s not given fans much to be particularly optimistic about over the last 12 months. When Arsene Wenger’s given him a chance to shine, he hasn’t necessarily harmed the side’s progress, but perhaps more worryingly, he hasn’t done much to boost their prospects, either.
The looming figures of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla have certainly offered a sizeable roadblock to Ramsey’s first team prospects and no one should underplay the effect Wenger’s recent penchant for playing him out wide have had upon his performances. For a central midfielder with a generally uninspiring amount of pace, he’s never going to look a million dollars playing out wide.
But the problem for Ramsey doesn’t seem to be one of fitness, consistency or even as some have been keen to suggest, necessarily one of ability. On a far more elementary level, it feels a lot more to be one of confidence.
For all of his troubles toiling out on the wing when Wenger’s asked him to play there, it’s not been his failure to thrive in an alien position that’s drawn heat, more the stray 10-yard passes, the dithering on the ball and the uncertain decision making. Considering these are the bread-and-butter traits of which Ramsey’s game is built around, it’ll be of a massive concern to fans that the fundamentals seem to be going to putty for the Welshman.
Although despite a lack of real standout run of games for the side last year, Ramsey showed enough to dispel lazy observations that injury had robbed him of his ability to play at the top level. Whether he’ll ever become quite the player he looked on course to before he broke his leg, we may never know. But even if injury has robbed him of his chance to become one of Europe’s best, that still doesn’t make him a bad player.
Ultimately, none of Ramsey’s problems are likely to be solved sitting on the bench or playing out of position and former Wales international John Hartson’s recent suggestion that another loan spell could do Ramsey well, might not be such a bad idea at all. Half a season at a Premier League team going back to basics in a more natural central midfield role could do him the world of good. A spate of cameos coming off to play out of position probably isn’t.
Although whatever the future holds for Ramsey, he needs to find a way to start harnessing some element of forward momentum, because while his career is hardly in regression at the age of 22, it can only go sideways for so long. Both club and manager have stuck by him through both thick and thin but finding a way to get him first team football could be their biggest backing of Aaron Ramsey to date.