After returning from a horrific injury, Aaron Ramsey never quite looked like he had found his mojo. Part of it was down to confidence and part of it was down to being played out of position. It’s taken a while, but Ramsey is finally settling into a role where he looks dominant and confident and he’s fast becoming one of Arsenal’s most important players. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
It was a cold and miserable day in Stoke, or perhaps it was an ordinary day in Stoke, as most days there are cold and miserable. Aaron Ramsey was just starting to find some consistent form; he was being celebrated as a great prospect for Arsenal just two years after he ditched the prospect of joining Manchester United. Growing up a United fan, Ramsey made the decision to move from Cardiff to North London and he was just starting to shine.
Then it all came crashing down. A Ryan Shawcross tackle shattered the 19-year-old’s tibia and fibula and the Welsh international had to be stretchered off.
“When it happened and I saw my leg, all kinds of different thoughts were going through my head,” Ramsey said when he recalled the incident. “When I was on the way to the hospital, the doctor told me straight away that we would get through this, and that I would get back to where I was. That helped me feel sure this was something I could recover from. I believed in it, and the medical staff and specialists believed I was able to handle it mentally. I think I’ve done that.”
He did recover after surgery, of course, but there were doubts over whether he would ever return to that spritely young midfielder he was in the 2010 season. After resuming training, a loan spell at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City followed before he made is return to the Gunners. But Ramsey just wasn’t the same. He spent the majority of the 2012-13 season being nothing more than an irksome player, wasting chances and generally looking out of place in Arsenal’s midfield.
“It was a really tough thing to go through and I don’t wish it upon anybody,” said Ramsey earlier this year, prior to Arsenal’s Champions League clash against Bayern Munich. “The determination and the professionalism that you need, all the hours you have to spend in the gym, it’s quite tough. But I’ve got through that. It’s taken me a bit longer than I would’ve liked, but I’m happy now where I am, and hoping to improve and carry on this good form that I’m in.”
All of his woes coincided with him being stripped of the Welsh captaincy in October last year and having to deal with the death of his mentor, Gary Speed, a year before. It’s fair to say since breaking his leg Ramsey has had a rough deal. Being frequently played out of position didn’t help his case much either. He likes to control the midfield, he likes to distribute and stop the ball, but doesn’t quite work as a finisher. Yet, due to squad constraints or perhaps punishing Theo Walcott for not having signed a new contract, he had to slot into a right winger role for Arsenal a few times last season. It looked like Arsene Wenger had lost the plot, that or he was just bored with his constraints and looking for cheap laughs.
Wenger, that wily old fox, eventually realised that to get the best out of Ramsey he needs to shift position, and towards the end of last season, he finally started to look like the pre-leg break Ramsey.
“Confidence is a massive thing and if you’re struggling with that it does reflect in your performances. But I’ve got that back now. I’m hungry to keep that shirt and I’ve proved that with the way I’ve been playing of late,” Ramsey said.
“There has been a good progression and hopefully I can get back to where I was. That injury did take it out of me and hopefully that will only have been a minor hiccup when I look back on my career.”
His rejuvenation has continued and in the four games Ramsey has played in the current season, he has scored two goals and created two assists. His pass accuracy is 87% and he’s won over 60 percent of his tackles. He’s yet to make a defensive error and while his finishing still lacks (shot accuracy at just 50%) he’s showing signs of returning to his former glory.
This is in stark contrast to his struggles last season where Ramsey was wary of taking on defenders and was a bit slow to catch up – he’s simply not a sideline hugger. Nestled into the heart of the midfield is where he is most suitable. His stamina and his ability to go from box to box is relentless. In the first six games for Arsenal this season, he has five goals in all competition and has completed the most successful tackles by anybody in the league.
While there is plenty to get excited about with Mesut Ozil in the mix, it’s equally important to remember that Wenger does have the ability to get the best out of his youngsters. Instead of stuffing a squad with already-made players, Wenger will time and time again develop somebody into a star, even if he flops along the way.
That development could very well involve turning Ramsey into a solid defensive midfielder and would perhaps vindicate Wenger from not having spent millions on bringing in a player to fill that role.
Once ridiculed, Ramsey has now become one of Arsenal’s most revered players. Clearly he’s not nicknamed Rambo for nothing. DM
Photo: Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey (C) shoots to score during their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland, northern England, September 14, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis
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