Aaron Ramsey shares a common trait with a slew of Arsenal players. He has shown us exactly what he is capable of – a level of midfield dominance in keeping with the finest in the game.
Another shared thread with some of his fellow Gunners is that he also struggles with the high bar he has set himself.
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Olivier Giroud all – in defined patches – tore up the Premier League with their own select brand of football. Ozil had accrued a mammoth number of assists before December. Sanchez, once finely tuned after injury, was a scorn to defences. Olivier Giroud in the first half of the season looked likely to have his best season in an Arsenal shirt.
They also endured barren spells where they seemed a frail shadow of the same player who proved so effective previously.
In some way, all players suffer this. Purple patches are enjoyed, and when the inevitable slide happens, questions arise regarding their ‘slump.’
The scrutiny all professional footballers face increases with each season, and with the spotlight never fiercer thanks to a host of stats which measure anything, from distance run to unsuccessful passes, and players signing up to promote any manner of products which plaster their visage across the globe – this means that the burden of expectancy has never been heavier.
All players hit spots during a campaign where everything they attempt comes to a golden fruition. Every shot results in a goal or a dramatic save. Every flick bamboozles the opponent. Every tackle ends with possession. The fact is though, that every player will also plateau. This means that each player can only really be judged at the end of a season, so a veritable average can be reached.
I, and many others, are guilty of holding Aaron Ramsey up to his season of 2013/14, where he took our team by the scruff of the neck, and dragged them to where they should be. Since then, he has had injuries which have left him unable to reach a consistent level, and he has also been played out of position. Much like some others in the squad, such as Walcott.
Ramsey, in the Welsh team, is given free license to scour the attacking third, in an attempt to aid the lone Gareth Bale up front. Chris Coleman realises that Ramsey is the best equipped to provide a breakthrough for his team, and so he lets him roam, and his defensive duties are left to more unheralded teammates.
The result is that we see the best of Aaron Ramsey. His eye for a pass is just as good as midfield rival Jack Wilshere. His timing of runs into the box, with time, could verge on Paul Scholes territory. If he was given this job at Arsenal, he could lay all doubters to rest.
The snagging point with this hypothesis is though, that he will never get that permission on a regular basis. Mesut Ozil is justifiably, the man with the license within the Arsenal ranks. So Aaron is now at the point where he must decide his future.
Not in terms of staying or leaving, but in terms of playing style. Does he want to maintain his gung-ho attacking approach which lets his true talent shine – or should he attempt to hone his other skills so he can take advantage of an opening in the Arsenal eleven?
During that halcyon season of 2013/14, Ramsey played thirty four times, scoring sixteen goals and accruing ten assists. It wasn’t just a sharp rise in form that allowed Ramsey to register such wonderful numbers, but also his midfield partner at the time.
Mikel Arteta had sacrificed his attacking instincts to forge a career at Arsenal. Asked to fulfill a role which did not play to his strengths, he chose to work hard and put the team ethic before his own pride, unlike a host of others who are asked to play out of position. Arteta took to it admirably, providing the team with rhythm and a solid foundation. This also gave Ramsey free rein to extol his own brand of attacking play.
With Arteta behind him, this allowed Ramsey the reassurance that he could pursue his instinct without fear of leaving the team short. Since Arteta’s decline though, Ramsey has either been injured – which disrupts a player attempting to build rapport with another – or he has been shoved out to the flank.
Ramsey and Coquelin – the Frenchman being the incumbent of the defensive midfield position for the last season and a half – have failed to muster any chemistry when played alongside each other. Coquelin places possession of the ball above all else, but when he has the bal at his feet, he needs a player to distribute more productively. Ramsey though, is far better wreaking havoc without the ball than with. His runs give defenders chills as he is difficult to pick up. When playing with Coquelin, he must curb these runs in order to to aid Coquelin.
Now Granit Xhaka is at the club, and it is perceived that he will take the place of Coquelin. Xhaka has all the traits necessary to perform the role Arteta played so well, maybe even more so. He doesn’t necessarily have a weak link, and is far better at the defensive side of the game than Arteta. Ramsey now must use this signing as a springboard.
This could be his moment. He has a potential midfield partner that will allow him to display the better aspects of his game, but he MUST improve his positional discipline.
Santi Cazorla is essentially a number ten, but has played on the wing – and more recently – as an all-action box to box midfielder. He has adapted his game and will be the main rival for the spot alongside the new Swiss star. Cazorla has tempered his attacking traits with a dash of common sense, and now is the perfect launch player when we acquire possession.
Ramsey must show he too has this ability to know when it is right to attack and when it is correct to sit back. For Wales during Euro2016, when his team are defending, he is most often the player furthest forward, but for his club, he must change his tack if he is to hold down a regular spot.
It is now the right time for Ramsey to show he can do everything, rather than being a single-faceted player. We know he can attack with aplomb, but can he use his savvy to quell threats before they arise? Can he harry opponents into submission? Can he be the player which is a huge presence in both areas of the pitch?
He has the ability, of this there can be no doubt. Jack Wilshere too, can boast of a potential unrivalled by most. It is now time for both to finally cash that cheque and start showing what they can do over a whole season.
Ramsey – if successful – will probably not reach those fantastic figures of 2013/14. But his worth to the team will be worth much more. It is time for him to shine brighter than his current hair colour.