Everyone's favorite Welshman is next up for his turn on the Budweiser Hot Seat, as he passes under The Short Fuse's scrutiny. We all know where this is going, so let's get on with it.
There was a time when I honestly wasn't sure if Aaron Ramsey was going to make it. I hope he can forgive me (since he clearly both pays attention to and cares about what I think). While I was oft bemoaning the lack of quickness in his counterattacking and his passing, the one thing that never left him was his constant movement and willingness to play just about anywhere, including right back, and as his form returned to him, finally, after some monster broke his leg, and he slotted in alongside Mikel Arteta, things really fell into place. I don't know if he'll ever be the attacking midfielder that we imagined that we were getting four years ago, but as a deeper-lying central midfielder, his ability to cover a good deal of ground and to stay put in front of the back four was valuable surprise in the second half of the year. Aaron Ramsey may never turn out to be Arsenal's best midfielder, but it's easy to imagine his turning out to be Arsenal's second or third best midfielder at nearly every possible tactical position. A sustained run of form will only see him continue to improve, hopefully.
Let's just get this out of the way first: Ryan Shawcross is a dick.
Now, on to the good part. Aaron Ramsey. After losing over a year to the aforementioned Shawcrossing, Ramsey naturally struggled to regain his inherent Ramseyness - his ability and desire to be everywhere at once and his uncanny skill at working the ball forward while keeping the midfield shape solid were sorely missed in his absence. I usually hate this term, because I think people in the US use it incorrectly as an analog for skill, but Ramsey's work rate was and is unbelievable. Pair that with his skillset, and you've got one beastly mofo of a player.
The problems Ramsey had this year were mostly related to him being played out of position; for all his willingness to boss the midfield, he struggled in his few deployments up front, and seems much more comfortable in a distributor/stopper role than in a finisher's role, and I'm 100% OK with that. He was a little shaky at times this year, but next year, with a more complete side and another fully healthy season under his belt, Ramsey's skills will develop even further, and he will hopefully become the dominating presence I think he's capable of being.
Aaron Ramsey rocks, and you know it.
He does what's expected of him, which isn't to be the playmaking, highlight-reel, goal-scoring savior many think all forwards and midfielders for Arsenal should be. You need that player who's able to do the little things right, over and over again, and for me it was nothing but an incredible surprise to see the vast turnaround in Ramsey's play from the 2011/12 season to this past season.
I could sit here and berate you, tell you "I told you so," but that's childish. Instead, I'll accept your apologies as you stand in awe at how he's able to intercept the ball better than anyone else on the squad. Or how he's challenging Arteta for "best statistical passer." Sure, he doesn't score goals, but I don't criticize Olivier Giroud for his inability to anticipate the opposition like Ramsey does. In other words, they all have their roles and it's how well they both understand and execute it on the pitch that makes a player special. And even that, Ramsey's not a liability deep in opposition territory. While Santi Cazorla was my player of the year for Arsenal, my runner-up was Aaron Ramsey and, best of all, he's still got many productive years ahead of him.
I never quite got why Aaron Ramsey divides opinion as greatly as he does. I would've expected most to be more understanding of his overall poor 2012; the death of his mentor Gary Speed, fatigue in his first full season (with plenty of pressure on him) and then Alex Song's total abandonment of any semblance of discipline in the last 5 games of 11/12, feeding him to the proverbial sharks. 12/13 started with him low on confidence and playing (for valid reasons) out of position on the wings.
Predictably, with this in mind, his season started very inconsistently. There were some positive displays but surrounded by poorer ones, consigning the better ones to irrelevance in the eyes of many. His turning point came with Chelsea's first goal in the 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge in January. Or more specifically, the build-up to it, and Ramires' lunge on Francis Coquelin, which left the Frenchman with a hamstring injury. With Mikel Arteta already out, this gave him the chance to start as a defensive midfielder in the game against West Ham. Impressive performances there against them and Liverpool, as well as Wilshere's brilliance against Swansea, convinced Arsène to push Jack forward and rotate between Diaby and Ramsey in the deep role.
From here, Ramsey grew and grew, and made himself near-undroppable in the current squad. Just as with Rosicky, the team is better balanced with him there. Even when he was in poor form, his fantastic attitude and engine made sure he never disappeared within games or abandoned any cause, and they only sought to enhance him in better times. His and Arteta's partnership was vital for our defensive record after the Spurs game and though it removed some of our joie de vivre and slowed our transitional play, we were much stronger defensively and he was visibly improving on the latter with every game.
He's a rough-edged player but a potentially vital one. A mixed season overall, a mirror of the last with the poor start and the strong finish - it's his place to lose in the first eleven now.
This review is quite possibly the hardest for me to compose because, more than any other Arsenal player, I desperately want to see Aaron Ramsey succeed. It's sometimes very easy to forget two things about Ramsey regarding his injury: one is that at the time, Ramsey looked to be the far better prospect than Jack Wilshere, who, to that point, hadn't really found a position. Secondly, it's really hard to come back from a broken leg and be the same player; just look at Eduardo.
Coming into the season, Aaron Ramsey was someone who did not look like the same player before injury. Before injury, Ramsey, buoyed by youthful exuberance, had a certain amount of joie ve vivre, with lovely chipped through balls and backheels. Yet, 2012 had not been good to Ramsey, and he continued to struggle, losing the ball an awful amount of times for someone in a non-creative midfield position. Ramsey wasn't helped by being played out of position, a role he took on despite his own reservations. One can see why Arsene Wenger put Ramsey wide: his energy and passing range made him a natural choice, but it wasn't the time for the move to succeed.
Yet, injury to Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin gave Ramsey an opportunity in a more defensive role, where the Welshman flourished. With more touches, his confidence grew, and his loss of possessions fell as his passing became much better. Ramsey's energy is always exemplary, and he's an underrated tackler. After Mikel Arteta returned from injury and Jack Wilshere started playing further up the pitch, Ramsey became first choice, starting all but one of Arsenal's final 10 games. His partnership with Arteta gave the midfield balance; Ramsey did a good job of being disciplined, but his engine also allowed him to cover more ground and still make contributions in the attacking third.
Ramsey is by no means the finished product; his ball carrying retention skills and speed of passing could definitely improve, as the final 9 games showed. Arsenal's midfield may have been more structured, but it was less creative as the link between the attacking part of the midfield and the double pivot suffered. Ramsey could also improve his finishing; despite a more defensive role, he still makes very good off the ball runs into the penalty box. A return of two goals is poor for the amount of chances he has, and he should improve. Above all, Ramsey is 22 years of age; while he might not be the creative, Cesc Fabregas clone he looked to be at 17, there's still lots of time and lots of room for him to become better. After the second half of the season, I feel a lot more confident that he will.
I've always liked Aaron Ramsey, he's handsome, technically gifted and best of all, he never shies away from his critics. This season started off very rough for him --the whole team really but for some reason, we always need a scapegoat-- and many people, including journalists who are paid to think and write, counted him as down and out. Some even went as far as to say that the injury ruined him and he will never be the same or improve. At 22 years old.
He's always been an easy target for critics because he doesn't necessary stand out, he's not our most technically gifted player, he's not the fastest and he misses loads of chances, so I can see --not understand-- why he was burdened with so much criticism but none of it was deserved. It's true that at the beginning of the season, he was prone to losing the ball in midfield --either from reacting slowly or not being aware of a defender behind him-- but I marked that down as the effects of being out the game so long. It is also true that out of every player on the field, he worked the hardest.
He played midfield, on the wings and even right back --where he was an improvement over what seems to be the ghost of Sagna-- and as the season came to the second half, he became a pivotal cog in the team. He drives with the ball, TRIES things with passes that so many players refuse to do, tracks back like nobody else and became better and better. With his ascendance and the return of Laurent and Rosicky, the team was able to prosper and go on an unbeaten run to finish the season. So while others hang their heads when criticized and play worse, Aaron took it as a challenge, when not far removed from a leg break, and came through as a bright spot to the season.
My stance on Aaron Ramsey is well-established here, and I don't think I need to rehash it in full and waste everyone's time. He's finally close to getting back to where he was (quality-wise) before he got Shawcrossed, and he's done it all under the yoke of unnecessary and unhelpful abuse and pressure from a larger section of Arsenal fans than I'm proud of. Frankly, I don't think people who were against him before should be allowed to enjoy him now, but I can't really enforce that, so I'll have to live with it.
If you don't like Aaron Ramsey, go to hell. Aaron Ramsey owns.