At 22, is there much time for Aaron Ramsey to become the creative midfield dynamo that he promised to be back in 2008 when he made the switch from Cardiff to Arsenal? Of course there is. Was the whole world aware of Andrea Pirlo’s abilities as the creative hub of an undefeated title-winning side at 22? Probably not, and the same can be said for Xavi, who, despite being hugely important for Barcelona in the early part of the last decade, really came to prominence as the best midfielder in Spain’s history in his late twenties.
However, Ramsey doesn’t quite have time on his side at this stage of his career to slowly rebuild that aspect of his game following that injury in 2010. Even following a very, very good end to last season, the Welshman hasn’t won over all his doubters. For every flash of brilliance, some are eager to see a stray pass or a lapse in concentration just so it can be said that the player is still no good.
But Ramsey, and with plenty of credit to Arsene Wenger, has reinvented himself as an industrious midfielder in the midfield two. Where he was once talked up as one of the possible heirs to Cesc Fabregas’ throne – and he offered plenty of evidence early on that he could do it – the player he is now post-injury just doesn’t possess the quickness of thought or the consistency to be a creative centrepiece in a top team like Arsenal.
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Yet there have been monumental strides forward, even since the turn of the year. Midway through last season it was suggested that Ramsey should go out on loan again, largely because he needed a run in a team, but importantly to get away from the vitriol – as harsh as it sounds, it’s true – of the Emirates.
Now, however, the Welshman could be staking a claim as a regular and even important member of the starting XI. Let’s not completely remove ourselves from the idea that Ramsey can offer creative flashes here and there, because he can. How much of a benefit to Arsenal’s game is it to have an extra player in the midfield who has the mind of a creator, even though he may not have it in his body to execute the decisive passes with precision every time?
Ramsey is as dogged as anyone in the Premier League – and English football should be lapping it up. On his day, he can be that absolutely perfect combination of rugged toughness associated with the Premier League and the ingenuity of those on the continent. Despite it only being a pre-season friendly against a vastly inferior opposition, Ramsey was fantastic against the Indonesia Dream Team. The flicks, tricks and party skills are all memorable, but the fact that Ramsey had the confidence to pull it off is hugely encouraging.
But then that’s the fortune of him being only 22: there is still so much more to come from him in the future, and this should be the season where we see it begin the fall into place.
The problem with the 2011-12 campaign is that too much responsibility was placed in his hands too quickly. He was often played just behind Robin van Persie in Fabregas’ old role and given instruction to pull the strings for the rest of the team. The fact that he failed on the whole to do so is an indictment of the poor decision to offer such responsibility to a player who had just recovered from a career-threatening injury. He only recorded five assists in that campaign.
More so, last season saw Ramsey deployed in unfamiliar roles, often playing on the flanks and offering very little other than industry.
Going into this season, the fortune is that there is so little emphasis placed on Ramsey that he can fly under the radar and quietly continue his development. The focus is on a new central midfielder, possibly two. Everyone understands the need for a new striker, while some discussion is also being had about how to accommodate both Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere.
For Ramsey, it’s a case of continuing where he left off last season, putting forward his best abilities but in a role that suits him. Alongside Mikel Arteta, he’s continued to develop his awareness and defensive responsibility, as well as offering an outlet for Arsenal’s attacking game.
Ramsey was made a scapegoat in the past, though much of it was probably frustration at the club’s overall position at having lost its best players and offering little in the way of genuine encouragement for the future, rather than the player’s own ability. It made his continued path to recovery all the more troublesome, meaning there was no room for error.
Provided Wenger stays true to Ramsey’s current abilities, this coming season promises to be the player’s real awakening from the troubling past. A redefining of his character on the pitch and the makings of a truly world-class defensive midfielder.
Is there much more to come from Aaron Ramsey next season?
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