In the worst part of Aaron Ramsey's struggles last season, his form for the Welsh national team, imperious despite missing a year of football, rapidly declined. Chris Coleman took away the captaincy, trying to free Ramsey of responsibility. Yet, even as form and confidence declined, Ramsey never gave up, and always showed his industrious side, for club and country. His runs off the ball, which could've become tentative because of his lack of form and confidence, didn't; Ramsey wasn't afraid to get into goal-scoring positions, and he always, always gave 100%. Now that his form has recovered, he still does the same things, but has the confidence to make that industry count even more.
It was evident yesterday evening as Wales played Scotland at Hampden Park. Both sides are extremely unlikely to qualify from a group including Belgium and Croatia, but that mattered little in this home International derby; both sides desperately wanted to win. Wales have perhaps the most in form player in the country in Gareth Bale, but he was outshone by Aaron Ramsey, as he was when the two were coming through the Welsh U-21 side before that horrific challenge from Ryan Shawcross. In fairness to Bale, he was affected by his ankle knock, and only played 45 minutes, but he also showed on some occasions why it's not best to play him behind the striker against teams that are defending deep. On 15 minutes, Ramsey made a brilliant, untracked run through the middle, with Bale in possession. Had the Tottenham man made a lobbed pass or played a through ball, Ramsey would've been one on one with Allan McGregor; instead, Bale shot, and shot poorly.
That, though, didn't deter Ramsey from setting Bale up on multiple occasions, and Arsenal's midfielder was at the heart of everything Wales did. He covered an incredible amount of ground, with Wales' formation, 4-3-3 with no set striker and Joe Ledley holding, giving Ramsey to space to make runs into, as well as initiate attacking moves. And as Wales kept stroking the ball, retaining possession exceptionally well, Ramsey grew in confidence and stature. He appeared on the right, in place of Collison as Bellamy drove inside, and he popped up outside the box, playing an exceptional chipped pass for the on-rushing Ledley; unluckily, the ball hit the wet turf and sped out of play. Yet, for all of Ramsey's efforts, and Wales, Scotland took the lead from their first shot on target, from a set piece, with Grant Hanley heading home. Ramsey could be forgiven if it seemed too familiar, and he took his frustration out a minute later, cynically taking Shaun Maloney down to earn a yellow card.
After Bale's departure, Ramsey became even more involved as Wales chased Scotland's lead. The introduction of Andy King saw Ramsey pushed up to the position his shirt number indicated, with Crystal Palace's Jonathan Williams (a prodigious talent) offering another creative threat on the right hand side. Ramsey played two superb passes for Hal Robson-Kanu on the left, but both times, crosses were cut out. He also showed superb close-control on multiple occasions to burst past midfield pressure, and played an exquisite backheel to set Craig Bellamy off. He was involved in Wales' equaliser, carrying the ball from midfield into a pocket of space before slipping a reverse pass for Chris Gunter, who was fouled by Robert Snodgrass inside the box. Ramsey took the ensuing penalty, and properly smashed it off the crossbar and in; a proper, [redacted]-off penalty.
His sending off was the only blemish on the evening; the one time that Ramsey, perhaps due to the conditions, wanted more time on the ball and got caught by Jordan Rhodes. Aside from that, Ramsey's performance in seeing the game out was excellent in its intelligence.
Not only was the scoring of the penalty encouraging, but the sheer quality of Ramsey's passing and close-control, especially in difficult, snowy conditions, crucial to Wales' deserved victory, should give considerable encourage to Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. It looks as if Aaron Ramsey is getting back to his best.