By Liam Twomey
One of the few things more surprising than Arsenal’s stunning renaissance over the past three months is the minimal role Aaron Ramsey has played in it.
If 2011 was the year when the whole footballing world became aware of Jack Wilshere’s exceptional talent, 2012 appeared similarly primed for Ramsey to blossom.
The departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer left a gaping void in the Gunners’ midfield and, typically, Arsene Wenger looked internally, rather than externally, for replacements.
|RAMSEY AGAINST QPR
| PLAYER RATING
|4.5||A square peg in a round hole on the left flank. Struggled to get involved and, when he did, the recalled Welshman's unfamiliarity with the role meant he tended to opt for the safe option. Subbed with 22 minutes left.|
Injury deprived Wilshere of staking his claim, meaning the burden of hope rested ever more squarely on the Welshman’s young shoulders. Many expected it to be the making of him.
Yet things have turned out rather differently. Instead of becoming the star of the show, Ramsey has found himself overtaken and outshone by the supporting cast.
Wenger now turns to the likes of Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun and Tomas Rosicky when it matters most, and Arsenal have revived themselves in spite of their young playmaker.
It is true that, while disappointing, Ramsey’s struggles are not without significant mitigation.
The young man was rocked along with the rest of the footballing world by the sudden, tragic death of Gary Speed in November – a figure whose contribution to Ramsey’s personal and professional development went so much further than simply giving him the Welsh captaincy.
But even if Ramsey had not been dealt such a blow, all footballers are vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and form serves no man for long. A dull explanation it might be, but he may just be not quite ‘on it’ at the moment.
There is also, of course, the fact that an injury crisis before the turn of the year forced Wenger to rely on his remaining charges far more than he would have liked.
During this period Ramsey was leaned on as much as anyone, with his manager admitting before Christmas that the 21-year-old’s constant involvement risked injury.
It is entirely possible, then, that fatigue is the mysterious force which has seen an encouraging campaign tail off badly, and that a summer of rest will fully restore him.
Hopefully this is the case, as the alternative is altogether more ominous, a scenario Arsenal fans dread precisely because it is one they are all too familiar with.
|RAMSEY AGAINST WOLVES
| PLAYER RATING
|6.0||Looked short of match practice having not played for a few weeks. Neat in possession but a little off the pace.|
When Ramsey suffered that horrific double leg-break at the Britannia Stadium two years ago, many Gunners feared one of their brightest young stars had been ruined.
It was a fear grounded in past experience – dark memories of Eduardo and Martin Taylor in February 2008, and of the demise of a talent it was once hoped might succeed Thierry Henry.
The Croatian recovered, of course, and is now enjoying the next chapter of a successful career with Ukrainian giants and Champions League regulars Shakhtar Donetsk.
But his Arsenal career was dealt a terminal blow, just as it appeared ready for lift-off. Whether physically, mentally or even partly both, he was never the same.
It would be ludicrous to argue at this juncture that Ramsey is condemned to a similar fate. He remains brimming with potential and, at just 21 years of age, time is still his friend.
That said, their shared past means Gunners fans could be forgiven for seeing something portentous in the Welshman’s failure to become a key cog in the Arsenal machine this term.
Whether Ramsey’s struggles are to prove no more than a disappointing blip or a matter of serious concern, we will know soon enough.
In the meantime, Wigan’s visit to the Emirates Stadium tonight provides another chance for him to give his manager, his team-mates and his fans the answer they are looking for.
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