Today we have the first in a series of blogs on the rise and rise of Aaron Ramsey, which with a bit of luck will see some new bloggers popping their cherries.
I’m not ashamed to say that I wasn’t always Ramsey’s biggest fan. For a long time I quite simply though he was bad. In fact I was positive that he wasn’t good enough. When we discussed the deadwood that needed unloading, I lumped Ramsey in with Park, Djourou, and dare I say it, the great Lord Bendtner. He was a waste of space in my eyes; someone who would hold onto the ball too long in midfield and couldn’t win it back when he lost it. Don’t even get me started on when he played on the wing. There weren’t and still aren’t many footballers that really get my blood boiling. If Arsene bought them they must have something about them. I supported Arshavin for longer than most and was disappointed when both Eduardo and Vela were sold. All of them had shown flashes of brilliance, but dulled for some reason or another; injury, failure to adapt to the Premier League etc. To this day I still believe Arshavin just got too old and lost his fitness. However, something about Aaron just didn’t click with me. I cut him some slack, as I think we all did, after the terrible challenge from the Orc King that could have cleaved Castle Grayskull itself in two. However, by the 2011/2012 season I was frustrated with his lack of progression and felt he would never achieve the heights we had projected for him.
The paragraph you’ve just read was my opinion for about a year. My friends will never let me forget it.
One very important factor in the rise of Rambo is Arsene Wenger. He had potential when signing from Cardiff sure, but potential doesn’t always make a great player. Jay Emmanuel Thomas had potential too. I always saw Jack Wilshere as more talented, and more likely to make it. But Arsene always knew. Before paying 5 million pounds (for a 17 year old from Cardiff that’s nothing to sneeze at) Wenger reportedly flew him out to Switzerland to discuss his future. The boss was commentating at Euro 2008 at the time. Wenger spent over a month watching the best players in Europe and flew Aaron Ramsey out to convince him to join Arsenal. That shows you the belief Wenger had in him right from the beginning. While Ramsey was recovering from injury in 2010, a career threatening double leg break, Wenger signed him to a new long term contract. When others would have abandoned him, Wenger reassured him that he had a future at the club. The following season Jack would have one of his best performances for the club, in the 2-1 win over Barcelona at the Emirates. Aaron who? But Arsene always knew.
We’ve all heard that quote from Wenger: “Once Aaron Ramsey starts scoring he won’t stop”.
And he didn’t. Right up to the final moment of our last and most important game of the season, Aaron Ramsey didn’t stop scoring. But Ramsey’s rise (I’m enjoying the alliteration here) didn’t start in 2013/2014 season. That was just when he finally reached the top of the mountain. That F.A. Cup final goal sends Aaron Ramsey down in Arsenal history. Aaron Ramsey; Drought-Breaker. But it didn’t start there. In December 2012, Ramsey signed a new contract as part of our so called ‘British core’ along with Jenkinson, the Ox, Wilshere and Gibbs. Another show of faith from the boss. He never looked back. At this point I was still unsure of Ramsey’s future at Arsenal. In my eyes he still held the ball for too long, and tried clever tricks in areas of the pitch where he really shouldn’t have. But I began to see a change. Ramsey became very solid defensively. He didn’t score a mountain of goals in 2012/2013 in fact we only saw 1 premier league goal. What we did see however, was the start of the great Aaron Ramsey Engine. He started 17 of our last 20 matches, having previously started only 12 all season. From January onwards, he was indispensable, next to Arteta in midfield, becoming a true box to box player, running the ball between our defence and attack. This was when Ramsey finally set upon his climb with vigour. More and more I found myself admitting Ramsey had played well, had had a good game, had been man of the match. His rise was gathering pace.
Just before the start of last season we got a glimpse of what Ramsey would do. After a great pre-season, Ramsey topped it off with a lovely run from deep to score against Man City, as well as assisting a great goal from Theo (Oh what could have been). He also scored 3 times against Fenerbahce across two legs. It was something we would get used to. He scored against Fulham, Sunderland, Stoke (delightfully), Swansea and Norwich; 5 goals in the first 7 premier league games. By this point in the season we had already run out of superlatives for him. He didn’t have a part in Arsenal’s goal-of-the-season wonder goal against Norwich, so instead took it upon himself to dribble past the entire Norwich defence and score (leaving half of them on the floor behind him). It was Messi-esque. And yes I just made up that word because there are no words to describe how good Ramsey had become. Clearly my opinion has now completely changed. That’s not me back tracking or denying what I had previously believed. Quite simply I couldn’t be stubborn and ignore what was right in front of me. Despite the signing of Mesut Ozil, Ramsey had become Arsenal’s best player, our talisman, our driving force. I’ve not seen a player play like this in midfield for Arsenal for a long time. Fabregas was great he really was, but Ramsey had resurrected the spirit of Patrick Vieira to play at Arsenal’s heart.
What was Ramsey’s best moment of the 2013/2014 season? The goals against Norwich, Liverpool and Dortmund all stand out in my memory, but surely the F.A. Cup final goal takes the crown. His goals had dried up a little in the final moments of the season but when we were desperate, when we really needed someone to pull us out of a hole, Ramsey was there. I remember sitting right at the top of Wembley stadium and feeling despair when we were 2 nil down. I had been at Birmingham too. Surely this couldn’t happen again. Slowly but surely we clawed our way back. Ramsey didn’t have his best game, far from it, but in typical Ramsey fashion he never gave up. I remember a number of shots from outside the box, going high, going wide but inching closer every time, and I vividly remember turning to my dad saying, “I don’t care if he misses, they should keep giving him the ball. Let him shoot”. It was a massive change from my attitude towards Ramsey 18 months previously, where I would groan whenever he touched the ball.
Shoot he did. And score he did. Aaron Ramsey, after his best ever season, after being the best midfielder in England for 12 months, scored the winning goal to win the F.A. Cup for Arsenal. Drought-Breaker. Ramsey has climbed an Everest of injury, abuse and negativity, lots from his own fans. But he never gave up, and now he’s standing at the highest peak with an F.A. Cup winner’s medal and fistful of names he’s proved wrong, including a certain Dutch ex-captain who wanted him sold. He proved me wrong too. But he wouldn’t gloat because he’s not like that.
Aaron Ramsey has made a humble football fan of me. After his last 18 months I never feel I can write any player off no matter how bad they are. People have consistently written off Jenkinson, but I did the same with Ramsey. People wrote off Giroud, but I did the same with Ramsey. Hell I even don’t feel I can write off Tom Cleverly. Don’t get me wrong, I really think he’s shit. But once upon a time I said this guy wasn’t good enough for Arsenal Football Club and I had to eat my words. His name is Aaron Ramsey; Drought-Breaker.
By Tom Papaloizou @TomPapaloizou