It was the start of the 2011/12 season. Captain Cesc Fabregas, one of our most talented Arsenal midfielders ever, and the man that the team was built around, had left to join Barcelona. Samir Nasri, coming off an excellent previous season, had gone to Manchester City, Jack Wilshere, England’s great hope, was injured (for what we later discovered would last all season), Abou Diaby was injured. Thomas Rosicky was in an out. Andrey Arshavin had grown fat and unmotivated.
It was a midfield crisis to rival the fullback crisis that hit us later in the season. Wenger was basically left to work with Mikel Arteta, Francis Coquelin, Yossi Benayoun, Alex Song and of course Aaron Ramsey. A midfield triumvirate of creativity and steel from all sides was formed: a creative Song ostensibly as the defensive midfielder, a metronomic Arteta in the middle and poor Aaron Ramsey in the advanced Cesc role. Yes that’s right, less than 10 games back from that horrific, psychologically damaging injury, Ramsey was to replace the great Cesc Fabregas.
When I look back in retrospect, I wonder why Arteta and Ramsey’s roles weren’t reversed. Arteta had been a more creative force at Everton and Ramsey spent the 08-09 season playing between Song and Fabregas. It would have taken some pressure off of young Ramsey and onto more experienced shoulders, as well as given Ramsey his preferred role in the team. I guess perhaps, that Wenger was loathe to move Arteta who was preforming his role in the team better than anyone bar RVP. If Arteta had to replace Fabregas, I wonder if he would be receiving the same amount of love and adoration from Arsenal fans that he does today.
And so Ramsey became a source of frustration for many fans. ‘He slows us down’, ‘He’s too often looking for the killer pass rather than keeping it simple’, ‘He just passes backwards and sideways’, ‘He’s simply not good enough for Arsenal’, and of course ‘He’s the new Denilson’. I also wonder whether for some, the painful memory of the collapse during the ‘Do it for Aaron’ title campaign taints their image of the player. I must say at this point that there were some fans who fiercely defended him, and debated for him on the blogosphere, (hands up in the comments if you always believed in Aaron) but they were in the minority. And the more Ramsey was unable to produce the wonders of Cesc, the more criticism he got and the more his confidence and form dropped. A vicious cycle. Ultimately, it was a resurgent Rosicky who saved us in the creative midfield department later in the season.
This season, Ramsey has also frustrated some fans. I think frustrations reached their peak when Wenger was playing him on the wing, in my opinion attempting to achieve the same results as the previous season’s successful experiment with Benayoun on the wing. Some of the abuse of Ramsey that I’ve seen on the internet is staggering. Some have described a seemingly genuine wish that he would again break his leg. This starts to make you lose hope in both Arsenal fans and humanity.
2013 has been much kinder year for Ramsey, and boy is he due a break! He’s hit form, put in some excellent performances and silenced (mostly) his critics. One reason for this, I think, is that Arteta has been made to play defensive midfielder (quite well I think too) freeing up room for Ramsey’s favourite spot especially with Wilshire, who also has a claim to that position (where to play him is another mammoth question entirely), out injured.
This is definitely Ramsey’s most preferred position. But one of the best qualities is his versatility. This season he has played on the left wing, the right wing, as an attacking midfielder, as a defensive midfielder for the injured Arteta (I think playing well here kicked in his excellent form), and even as a full back! He is a very useful player for Wenger to have at his disposal.
Lastly and most importantly, Aaron Ramsey is one of the hardest workers in the Premier League. I am astounded by his running, his Arsenal spirit (beaten only by Jack and Carl and Szszeney) and his determination.
If he is simply a quality squad player who loves to play, can do a job all around the ground and gives everything each time he pulls on the jumper, he is worth his wages. But the great thing about Ramsey is this is his minimum. He is young; there is the potential, with a lot of improvement and hard work, for him to become an exceptional player and a starter. If not, we’ll still have a hard working and high quality squad member, a player every title winning team needs.
Written by Gus