The haters have certainly been out in force since a few minutes into the Wigan game. I’ve covered the Theo Walcott situation in the previous post here. The other subject of derision is another, even younger player, who is the Welsh International captain. Yes at 21 years of age this lad has been given the responsibility to wear the armband for his country. International captaincy is not as crucial a role as club level, day to day captaincy, but nevertheless being made captain of your country is a tremendous honour for anyone. The players that get to represent their country are extremely rare – to join the elite band who have led the team out is very special indeed. To have achieved this, even for a small country like Wales, by the age of 22 is evidence of quite a unique individual.
I was genuinely excited when I heard Arsenal were interested in Aaron Ramsey. Cardiff had impressed lots of people with their run as a Championship side to the FA Cup Final in 2008, where they lost to Harry Redknapp’s soon to be bankrupt Portsmouth. It was reported that Ramsey had impressed a couple of the top managers, and I must admit I mentally switched off when I heard there was a race between Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson for his signature. It was a very pleasant surprise when Ramsey chose Arsenal over Manchester United and joined in June 2008.
The central midfield was never going to be easy to get into for a 17 year old Premiership new boy, as the squad included Fabregas, Song, Nasri, Diaby, Rosicky and Denilson. Chances were always going to be limited but Aaron had done reasonably well in Carling and FA Cup matches in the first season and a half after he joined. Then he got a run of starts and a couple of goals around New Year 2009-10, and it really began to look like he was settling in. I thought he started to link well with Fabregas when they played together – like there was a special understanding just starting to develop.
Then in February 2010 he unfortunately went for a 50/50 with Ryan Shawcross and ended up in hospital with a double leg break (tibia and fibia). A lot’s been said on this. I don’t think that Shawcross actually meant to break Ramsey’s leg, but it was on the cards. I played to a crap standard, when I was a mere slip of a lad, and I had managers tell me to “get in hard” in the first 10 mins, to “let him know you’re there”. We all know it goes on, we all know nobody means to hurt anybody else. But if you’re a bit vertically challenged, and you think wearing a cap hides your lack of intelligence, and you fill your team with big lads who are crap at passing the ball, who are strong and physically fit. If you wind them up and tell them the only way they can live with these skilful little players is to get in hard “cos he’s gonna destroy you”. Then somewhere along the way there are going to be accidents – and really if you’re anything like a decent human being, you should take some responsibility for it, instead of shying away from it by defending the act.
Remembering back to the “Eduardo” match at St Andrews in 2008, we had completely caved in after his horrific injury. It really looked like the team didn’t have the stomach for the fight that day. Clichy made an awful mistake for their penalty, and then Gallas had a tantrum worthy of one of my girls (8 & 5 at the time) sitting down on the pitch at the end. I’m getting sidetracked but I didn’t ever want to see him in an Arsenal shirt again: as captain I thought he let his team mates, the fans and the club down that day. At Stoke, the reaction of our players on the pitch to Ramsey’s injury looked, if anything, worse. Fabregas and Vermaelen were distraught. However, the team showed immense character that day, picked themselves up and got the victory. At the time, I really thought that might have been a turning point for this team and this era. The Stoke game was the 2nd in a 6 game winning run, and took 21 points from 24. Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. We got humped by Barca [well Messi really] and then later gave away a 2-goal lead with 10 mins to go, to lose 3-2 at Wigan, inexplicably. The season petered out when we could have pushed harder to the end.
Back to the plot. Ramsey came back towards the end of last season (2010-11, if you’re watching on “Dave” 😉 other TV channels are available), scored the winner with a sweet strike from outside the box against United, and tentatively started getting his career back on track. With the summer departures of Fabregas and Judas Na$ri, and with Wilshere’s injury, season 2011-12 looked tailor made for Aaron Ramsey to step out of the shadows and fulfill his potential. So where did it all go wrong?
Firstly, Ramsey played the early part of the season as the emergency (I’m convinced Na$ri was meant to) replacement for Fabregas, in the attacking midfield role. There are a couple of parts of his game that mean he is not best suited to this role: his is not explosively quick off the mark, over the first couple of yards; his vision for the short threaded pass is good, but it’s not exceptional like Fabregas’ or even good like Rosicky’s. He can’t really beat a player with skill, or a little change of pace, to just grab that extra half yard. He was good at joining the front man to chase down in the pressing game, and he gets up and down like no other player. I’d love to see the stats on ground coverage, because he seems to me to be all over the place. He didn’t score or create much from that position: I think he didn’t really understand that position properly – it’s a different way to play to arrive early and be in a good position than to arrive late. I think that’s his expert area to join the attack and run onto it late – not really to create the move itself, by making a forward run and turning back towards the play, and continuing the move.
Then secondly, I think he has had a bad run and has not been dropped. This has happened to a few players at Arsenal recently (Arshavin, Walcott, Mertesacker to an extent) and I think it frustrates the fans, but it is obviously not the player’s fault. Who is going to get picked and turn down the place in the team? No-one. Well maybe Wayne Bridge, but he doesn’t really count.
Then there is the perception that, because Ramsey was playing in the same position as Fabregas, that he was Fabregas’ replacement. You’re talking a world class player, with fantastic touch, vision, heart, drive, ambition. At 24 he’s already won the World Cup and the European Championships. Barring injury, by the time Fabregas has finished, there aren’t going to be many players in the history of the game who are more decorated. Then you’re comparing a 21 year with an exceptional talent, and being bitter that he doesn’t come up to the mark. In my view a bit unfair.
There was an argument that he’d been overplayed earlier in the season, which I agree with. He was rested for a few games and since then has had far more regular rest so it’s possible he’s either got a niggly injury or it’s been recognised by the medical staff that he was in the “red zone”. When you take into consideration the mileage that he does (albeit perceived at this stage) maybe there’s not much left in the tank this season…? I’m sure after a break this close season he will be raring to go next year.
Of course, the above problems of being out of position, losing his touch a bit, playing when out of form and also a bit fatigued, mean that he’s had a few bad performances. This has led to the position at the moment where he has almost totally lost confidence. He’s committing cardinal sins at the moment of being tentative on the ball – he knows he’s under a bit of pressure, and I think he’s now not playing his natural game: silly flicks, killer balls all the time, etc. When Arteta went off against Wigan, he finally got his chance in a more withdrawn role, but he kept giving the ball away, he looked clumsy. It really didn’t go that well – a below par performance.
But why this leads to the abuse he gets, I don’t know. He’s not the finished article: he’s a young lad, learning his trade. Learning how to to adapt and play his game, under pressure, at an elite level in a very competitive sport. I can’t see the reasoning behind slagging him off. Imagine how proud his family must have been when they knew he was joining that great English club Arsenal? Following other Welsh greats like Bob John, Jack Kelsey and John Hartson [sic] (and I thought Cliff Bastin was Welsh when I started that sentence…). I sincerely hope they are not able to hear what’s being shouted at him from Block 1 because it’s nothing short of a disgrace. I’ve also read on Twitter that it’s not an isolated incident either, that words have been said in the North Bank as well.
I really want Aaron Ramsey to stay at Arsenal and to have a long and successful career with us. He has got a lot of good footballing qualities: leadership, good engine, touch, vision. He’s rebuilding his game after a horrific injury that a few years ago might have ended his career. He’s been playing out of position. He is still relatively immature for a top level midfielder at only 21. He is not the finished article. I have faith that he will be a great player for us. For want of a better phrase, give the guy a break…
Wear Your Red & White Scarf With Pride. For Our Welsh Dragon.