I’ve never witnessed a rise to ascendancy quite as rapid as Aaron Ramsey’s last season.
Towards the end of the 2012/13 campaign, Arsene Wenger informed the Welshman that he couldn’t be selected for home fixtures due to supporters’ angst towards his performances, whilst rumours in the subsequent summer linked him with a move back to former club Cardiff City.
Less than a year later however, Ramsey had emerged as not only Arsenal’s most dependable match-winner, but also one of the most prolific midfielders in Europe, bagging 16 goals across all competitions, including eleven in the Premier League and an extra-time winner in the FA Cup final – winning the Gunners’ first trophy for nine years.
Indeed, it was a miraculous metamorphosis for a midfielder whose prior tally for the north Londoners stood at just eleven in 151 appearances. It felt like a real turning point in his career, with Ramsey’s enormous potential as a youngster offset by a harrowing leg break in 2010, courtesy of Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross.
In echo of countryman Gareth Bale the year previous, many expected the lethality of Ramsey’s coming of age campaign to become permanence, a telling characteristic of his game for the many years to come.
But his total for the current campaign stands at just three in fifteen; a useful yet hardly talismanic input when compared to the heights of last year. Scrutiny and criticism has duly followed, but what should we be expecting of Ramsey?
Are Arsenal right to depend on him for regular goals from midfield, or is the Wales international now a victim of his own fortuitously high standards that he’d always struggle to live up to?
The ultimate question is whether Ramsey’s all-round contribution, without goals, is enough to warrant a near-permanent slot in Arsenal’s starting Xi. Wenger’s made his feelings on the issue relatively clear, quipping to journalists earlier this month: “He has to keep his priorities right. He needs to help the team. It’s not about goalscoring.”
A fair point indeed, considering the Welshman’s currently deployed in less advanced roles than last season, including a few outings as Arsenal’s deepest-lying midfielder. He still possesses that progressive mix of industriousness and quality, even if his ability to influence score-lines directly has waned somewhat, and is currently creating around 1.8 chances per match. Only Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez boast better returns.
Ironically however, Ramsey’s form last term, not including his 16 goals across all competitions, was accolade-worthy in its own right – this season, it’s been rather ordinary.
Prior to his injury in December 2013 for example, the 23 year-old’s assist return and tackle rate, for a central midfielder, was amongst the best in Europe, and he eventually finished the year averaging 0.35 assists, 2.83 successful tackles, 1.3 successful dribbles, 55 accurate passes, 0.13 blocks and 0.04 defensive errors per match.
So far this season, all those averages have reduced, with the exception of the latter which has risen to 0.2. Meanwhile, despite netting just twice in ten Premier League outings, his attempts on goal per match has increased from 2.17 to 2.3, resulting in a decline in shooting accuracy from 71% to 38%.
Perhaps most tellingly, he claimed six Man of the Match awards last term according to stats gurus whoscored.com, the third most of any Premier League player after Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez. This year, Ramsey’s yet to get his first in any competition.
In fairness, Ramsey’s campaign has yet again been peppered with niggling injuries, and prior to last season, the Wales international was hardly famed for his proficiency in front of goal – in fact, quite the opposite.
He’d previously scored just seven times from five campaigns in the Premier League, with his biggest outlay being four goals in all competitions during the 2009/10 season. Compare that to the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Kevin Nolan – three midfielders who’ve made a career out of netting from midfield -all of whom had bagged eight goals or more in a single season by their third term of regular action at senior level.
Furthermore, although two goals in ten Premier League outings may not be up to the impeccable standards of last season, Ramsey’s actually Arsenal’s joint-second top scorer in the Premier League, along with Danny Welbeck. Alex Sanchez stands at eight in ten, but before the Welshman is held to account for his lukewarm strike-rate, shouldn’t the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, all of whom play in more advanced roles than Ramsey, be questioned first?
That being said, it’s Ramsey’s own standards, not those of his team-mates, he needs to be living up to. But whether he actually has the quality to regenerate his goalscoring feats from last season remains open to interpretation.
Wenger believes goals will come with form and that’s a more than valid argument. Yet, as Ramsey’s goal-drought continues, now extending to eleven appearances, last season is looking more and more like a glittering anomaly.
Perhaps around eight goals a year should be expected from the midfielder, but reaching double figures every season, at this point, seems like a rather unrealistic ask.