Part 2 of our Aaron Ramsey series is by @kaltume_b
Throughout History, and especially during Arsene Wenger’s tenure, Arsenal has built a reputation as a club that offers nascent talent a chance to have a shot at the big stage. Amongst the many, there appeared Aaron Ramsey.
At the tender age of 17, the Welshman was seen as one of the most talented British Midfielders. A keen athlete and avid rugby player as a young school boy he eventually chose football as his main passion. Starting at the Caerphilly RFC Youth Development Program, Ramsey then went on to join the youth academy at Cardiff City.
After working his way through the youth ranks he eventually got his first team debut against Hull City in the last game of the 2006/2007 championship season, becoming the youngest ever player to play for Cardiff City at the age of 16years and 124 days. Aaron enjoyed a breakout season in 2007 that saw him make 22 appearances and play in the 2-0 FA Cup final defeat to Portsmouth.
So bright was the potential of his talent in midfield that during the season he was constantly being watched and monitored by scouts from the top teams in the premier league. “If I keep my feet on the ground, 2008 could be a big year for me “said Aaron in one of his interviews. And indeed it was, as the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson made inquiries and spoke to then Cardiff Boss Dave Jones about his possible transfer. Shortly after, Arsenal and Everton joined in the race for his coveted signature.
It was a race that would see the Gunners emerge victorious after Ramsey and his family was flown to Switzerland to meet with Arsene Wenger who was working as a French television pundit at the time, he described Aaron as “a player with a fantastic engine, good build, good technique and vision”. On 13th June 2008 Arsenal officially signed the Welsh midfielder from Cardiff City for a transfer fee of £5 Million.
The manager’s detailed promise of how he could help Aaron improve as a player, plus how he had been able to bring up, nurture and give opportunities to other young talented players were words enough to sway the Welsh midfielder to make the move to Arsenal. Ramsey felt that Arsenal wanted him more than the other clubs -yes eat your heart out Fergie-, “they had a plan set out for me and knew how exactly to improve me”.
So began Rambo’s journey in Arsenal and like every journey there are few unexpected twists and turns along the way and his has been no exception.
He started out brightly making his debut for the first team in the Champions League third round qualifying match against FC Twente in August 2008, the league in September providing an assist for Adebayor. Such was the belief and faith in his talent and potential that the manager was willing to give him a chance so early in the start of his Arsenal career.
He was making steady progress that was brought to a shocking untimely halt at the Britannia Stadium in 2010 when a tackle by Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross left him with a double fracture of the tibia and fibula of his right leg; that began the long journey of recovery that would see him out for about 8 months and see him go out on loan to Nottingham Forest and his old club Cardiff City.
It was during his recovery that Arsene Wenger again showed unwavering belief in Aaron by extending his tenure, signing him to a new long term contract with the club.
Before his ascent to the very top last season Aaron had a flip flop and sometimes torrid time regarding his performances on the pitch. He came into a lot of heavy and unfair criticism from fans, which -in my opinion- was to an extent down to difficulty created by the solid and great season Jack Wilshere was having in the team. Aaron looked a shadow of himself the times he did get his chance to play. His problem wasn’t physical anymore, it was -in my humble opinion- more of a psychological handbrake and he can be forgiven after the trauma he went through. That was the ugly duckling phase for him for surely from 2012/2013 season he was maturing and growing into his own till in 2013/2014 season he blossomed into a swan (yes I know a male swan is called a cob).
The buildup to Aaron having a fantastic 2013/2014 started slowly but steadily from the 2012/2013 season where he made a total 21 starts and scored only once in the league. Looking at this stat one may think that he really didn’t do that much and so many people were disillusioned by his performances especially as Wenger was still picking him game after game. During his campaign he suffer from lapses in concentration in games but the critiques were over the top. People failed to notice that Aaron passes the ball extremely well (87%), makes key tackles, has great interception rates, creates goal scoring opportunities therefore has qualities of a great box to box player. For me personally what I found and still find refreshing about Aaron is his willingness to take shots on goal as sometimes Arsenal are a bit obsessed with creating the perfect walk in goal.
As part of building the club with “British Core” Aaron together with Carl Jenkinson, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all signed new long term contracts in December 2012. I think that the new contract further galvanized Rambo and gave him the confidence boost he badly needed. The rest of his season became success and he was like a new player.
Before the start of the 2013/2014 season very few people gave Arsenal a chance as usual the critiques believed our campaign was in ruins before it began with the botched attempt to sign Luiz Suarez from Liverpool and the lack of any top class signing at the time. Ramsey was to re-write the script and provide a championship assault performance for the Gunners.
After a promising pre-season he just flexed his muscles and kept moving through the gears without looking back. The deadline day signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid brought a wave of excitement and optimism that had been lacking for a while, but it was Rambo that would take the spotlight and produce one of his finest performances in an Arsenal shirt.
August to December 2013 saw Aaron provide performances for the highlight reel he became the heartbeat and most influential player for the Gunners providing assists, breaking up play and scoring some memorable goals. He was the darling of the moment everything he did was magic, he was proving the doubters wrong and Gooners all around the globe even the most pessimistic were falling in love all over again with Arsenal’s new talisman.
Once Rambo started scoring he didn’t know how to stop by November he had amassed 13 goals in all competitions overhauling his career 11 goal tally in his previous 4 seasons at the club and it was not even January.
It wasn’t just his goal scoring record that was impressive Aaron was the consummate team player providing assists for his team mates and generally elevating the spirits within the team. His positioning on the field has been one of the key areas that has assisted in his success. This saw him win the Arsenal Player of the month 4 consecutive times and the Barclays player of the month in September. He was without a doubt the best midfielder in the league and he is one of the top young midfielders in Europe. “We bought Ramsey for £5 million and I wouldn’t sell him for £50 million” said Arsene after another fine performance against Cardiff City.
The injury Gods would once again deal a blow to Aaron’s flying form; he would sustain a thigh injury against West Ham that would see him out for over three months. His absence would see the Gunners run take a nose dive that will see the team go from top of the pile to battling for the 4th Champions League place with Everton.
During the 2013/2014 campaign he scored some incredible goals the 25 yard belter against Liverpool, the goals against Norwich, Dortmund, and Stoke but surely the crowning glory has to be the goal in the FA Cup final.
He ensured the team closed out the season with a bang and returned that championship winning feeling that a lot of us fans have forgotten. I missed the opening stages of the FA Cup final and my phone was dead, as soon as I got home and turned on the TV I couldn’t believe we were 2-0 down. I kept praying please don’t bottle this Arsenal, my United supporting brother said “you need some Aaron magic” little did he know how prophetic his words would be. He was not having his best match but he was everywhere on the pitch tackling, passing and yes shooting. He and the team would dig in and claw their way out to emerge victorious in the Wembley sunshine and end the 9 year trophy drought.
Aaron has come a long way from the teenage prodigy to delivering on the promise of being one of the best young midfielders in Europe. He has established himself as a dominant player in the Arsenal team with aggressive offensiveness and consistent defensive qualities. He was written off time and time again by critics and fans but like a phoenix he has risen again even more determined and has proved he can hold his own among the elites of football, not too bad for a boy from a rugby town.