There’s nothing quite like an individual making a comeback. Beating the odds, proving critics wrong, making believers out of cynics or rising like a phoenix from the ashes – whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that it makes for good viewing and renews hope for causes that are seemingly lost.
Aaron Ramsey embarked on his own road to redemption this season and so far, the grunts and sighs sounded whenever he took the pitch in the last campaign have been replaced by cheers every time he gets on the ball this term.
Ramsey arrived at Arsenal as an 18 year-old wonder-kid. He was the next big thing in Welsh football and The Gunners had to shell out a hefty £4.8 million fee to sign him from Cardiff City. In his first couple of seasons he showed an abundance of potential with regular glimpses of brilliance for such a young player but his progress came to a crashing halt, quite literally, when a robust and irresponsible tackle from Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross left Ramsey with a double fracture in his right leg.
Ramsey's horrific injury set-back
The midfielder returned to training in eight months and after a couple of loan spells to regain his match fitness, he resumed his career at Arsenal in earnest at the start of the 2011-12 season. That campaign proved to be a disappointing one for Ramsey as did the one that followed. Last season in particular was a trying period for the young midfielder as most began to doubt his ability to develop into the player he was on his way to becoming before that horrendous injury.
He was initially welcomed back, greeted with sympathy and understanding but the modern game waits for no man and the patience of several Arsenal fans began to wear thin even though the late Gary Speed entrusted him with the captain’s armband for Wales, speaking volumes of his faith in the player’s ability. However, good things come to those who wait and Ramsey seems to be making up for lost time this season by scoring 8 goals in 9 appearances.
While a few fans of hindsight would point out that Ramsey may have been the steal of the summer if a club took a chance on him in the transfer market, the truth is that he wouldn’t have been sold on the cheap anyway, despite his extended poor run of form. And that’s primarily down to the one man who believed in him from the onset and even through all his turmoil and hardship - Arsene Wenger.
Wenger kept his faith in Ramsey
The Frenchman described Ramsey as "a player with a fantastic engine, good build, good technique and good vision" when he first signed him. He saw the potential he had and never lost sight of that. He was experienced enough to recognize that it would take time for him to rediscover himself as a player but he was patient and gave him the game time he needed even though he attracted plenty of slack for playing the midfielder.
Perhaps his faith in Ramsey’s talent and his belief that he would return to his old self was exemplified when he offered him a new long-term contract right in the middle of his rehabilitation. Pragmatically speaking it wasn’t the best choice after all, the youngster had endured a career-threatening injury. However, he took a chance on Ramsey and the player in turn seems desperate to repay the manager in full.
For starters, he’s played every single minute of Arsenal’s season so far. Apart from the 8 goals he’s scored already, he’s also bagged two assists and with his confidence soaring, has had 19 shots at goal. Not only does that take his shots to goal ratio to nearly 50% but his 9 shots on target means that the keeper has managed to deny him just once. In stark contrast, he had only 17 shots on target last season which yielded 4 goals from 58 appearances.
The midfielder's tenacity and energy have been vital
People have raved about the £42 million man, Mesut Ozil and rightly so. The German playmaker doesn’t just bring his own passing and creativity to the team but one of his most endearing qualities is his ability to get everyone around him playing as well, thereby lifting the entire team’s game. However, Ramsey's vibrancy has had a huge part to play in Arsenal’s fantastically frantic style of play this season.
While Ozil is the more cultured element of their midfield, Ramsey’s injection of pace, drive and tenacity has made Arsenal impossible to live with particularly when the two midfielders work in tandem. Jack Wilshere has also provided the same kind of pace and tenacity albeit to a lesser extent so far this season.
His goals have been very handy indeed but perhaps Ramsey’s biggest contribution to Arsenal’s midfield is his mobility. The ability to carry the ball forward or the desire to make forward runs time and again are qualities that should never be taken for granted because it’s that kind of penetration from midfield that so many teams, even the good ones, desperately lack and Manchester United’s flat central midfield over the past couple of seasons can stand testament to that.
Integral to Arsenal's zest in midfield
Ramsey’s also been equally influential in a defensive capacity. In fact, the Welshman has surprisingly made the most tackles in the Premier League this season with 33. It’s no wonder that Wenger once referred to him as "an offense-minded Roy Keane" and "an all-round player, with a fantastic ability to cover distances."In a way, the injuries to key players like Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla which were supposed to cripple this Arsenal side has instead given Ramsey the opportunity to be all he can be. Make no mistake, his purple patch will eventually come to an end but maintaining this level of performance will ensure more goals at a steady rate and more importantly, it will keep the Arsenal engine purring and winning games.
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