Will the real Aaron Ramsey show himself?
Ireland’s victory in Cardiff means that Aaron Ramsey will not have the opportunity to showcase his talents to the watching world in Russia in 2018 as he did so wonderfully in France in Euro 2016. Though watching the Arsenal FA Cup hero huff and puff against a well organised Irish hoard there were no signs of his talent at all. In any money betting sense Wales had been favourites with betting sites like Betway for example but the Irish players performed like Wales did last summer and Wales and Ramsey, frankly, did not.
Apologists will look to the withdrawal through injury of Joe Allen after half an hour for his 6/10 display in such a huge game – saying that Ramsey needs an organised passer alongside him to find his runs and anticipate his movement. However whist I want the Welshman to succeed at Arsenal I do find myself wondering how long must we blame Ramsey’s shortcomings on the shortcomings of his midfield partners? From the stellar break-out season in 2013/14 his poor form was apparently due to him having to play with un ‘Arteta’ type players, or – of course – being asked to play out wide, which ‘is not his position’. To the latter argument I will just say Ray Parlour and to the former I just laugh in all honesty.
Will we see this Ramsey again?
It is impossible to argue that Ramsey is a World Class midfielder and in the same breath add, as long as he is playing with a player who brings out the best in him. World Class is World Class – Vieira was that whether he lined up alongside Gilberto, Parlour, Edu or Gio, end of. So no Aaron Ramsey is NOT World Class but he is a very good box to box midfielder, with an amazing engine and an eye for goal. Those attributes should be admired and not scorned and Arsenal fans should be grateful that he is one of ours but the questions still remain.
Formations to suit?
Firstly questions around the system Arsenal deploy and whether it is suited to Ramsey. It is hard not to appreciate the argument that he should be deployed further up the pitch ahead of a double pivot as he is with Allen and Ledley for his nation but in Wenger’s Arsenal that position has generally been reserved for a creative passer such as Cazorla, Fabregas, Rosicky or more recently Ozil. In the new 3421 there is a possibility for Ramsey to play as one of the two behind the sole striker and this has been tried recently at home to WBA. Whether that experiment is persevered with may depend on Wenger’s plans for Mesut Ozil or even Alexis in January. If that is not the future and the Welshman is to continue centrally alongside Xhaka then he has to show the constraint and discipline he demonstrated against Chelsea and play with his Swiss partner. There is little doubt he can excel in this role but the player and many fans might feel it curtails his attacking prowess too much. However, unless Wenger, moved to the 433 that would release him as the ‘box to boxer’ he wishes to be, the short term future is unlikely to offer that release.
For me at least the other question marks are all around his on field discipline and decision-making. I have touched on his onfield discipline and how it is required of a central midfielder at Arsenal in our current set up. This is particularly the case with Xhaka’s pace not being an asset but Ramsey has to pick his occasions for joining the attack, being particularly mindful if the wingbacks are both well advanced. This is not to say with three CBs and Granit behind him he cannot get involved and make his runs but he has to pick his times carefully. He also has to use his superb fitness to chase back when those attacks break down, something he has not always done if we are all honest. In the current set up the wide players are actively encouraged to bomb on and provide the width to Arsenal’s attack and that may mean less opportunities for Ramsey. However, that is when he has to understand and accept his role in the team.
If Ramsey does accept that he can star in the team without needing to score as often or to attempt the glory pass when it is patently obviously not on he can be the engine room alongside Xhaka of this team for years to come and probably be its captain. If he wants the box-to-box goal scoring midfield role he may need to play for a different team or wait for a different manager because I fear that role does not exist at Arsenal in the short-term.
Both he and Xhaka, have perhaps not been under true pressure from Coquelin and Elneny but with Wilshere, who clearly does understand the position and have the discipline, now fit and Cazorla returning potentially in January both need to raise their games and perform as a partnership as they did in the FA Cup Final and away at Stamford Bridge week in week out. With players of that quality breathing down their necks the 6/7 or of 10 displays we have seen of late may not be good enough to keep their shirts.
Ramsey, in particular is playing for a contract that will undoubtedly make him one of the highest earners in the Club’s history. He is firmly part of that history with two Wembley winners to his name but whether he is remembered as a great in that history is firmly down to him.