Aaron Ramsey’s career was up in the air as he stared into the sky grimacing on a winter night at the Britannia Stadium. The famous English cliché ‘but could he do it on a cold night at Stoke?’ often the measuring stick to determine whether player’s can succeed in the Premier League – from a naïve perspective – nearly became a harsh reality in late February 2010.
With Arsenal searching for a winner to maintain their optimistic title quest, the Gunners surged forward desperately. Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross dispossessed Nicholas Bendtner at the halfway line, and drove into midfield with a promising first touch, but his second touch was dire, leading him to lose possession. Ramsey cleverly lifted the ball over Shawcross, and seconds later the Stoke City defender collided into his shin, breaking his fibula and tibia. At the tender age of 19, the Welsh midfielder was stretchered off the wet pitch, with his career in jeopardy, and his teammates distraught.
It was a massive blow to the Arsenal starlet’s career, as he began to solidify a starting spot in the Gunners lineup. But nine months of rehabilitation halted the Welshman’s development, allowing Jack Wilshere to flourish and claim a starting role. While Wilshere’s stature grew, Gareth Bale slowly caught the eyes of many, as he steadily became the star of Wales – and the world most expensive player in the world – a title many expected Ramsey to withhold.
Subsequently, Ramsey failed to reach the heights that granted him a spot in the starting eleven when he was declared medically fit, and he slowly slid down the double-pivot pecking order. Ramsey, known for his versatility, produced dismal performances across the Arsenal midfield – playing as wide attacking midfielder and as a fullback on the odd occasion – over the next few years, as many began to question his value to the club.
However, three years after the incident involving Shawcross, Ramsey reminded the world why Arsene Wenger was so persistent in signing the young midfielder for £5m in 2008. Ramsey is a jack-of-all trades – frankly it’s in his DNA. The Welsh midfielder excelled in rugby throughout school and at the age of 13 he was the 800m champion of Wales, but he was always adamant on becoming a professional footballer.
Ramsey’s talent was discovered when his mother brought him to a football session hosted by Urrd football language movement, a local soccer team in Caerphilly. Unfortunately, Ramsey, who was six, was turned away because he was too young – as the minimum age to be eligible was seven. But the following year, his mother brought him back, thus leading former sports officer Gary Lewis – who was also affiliated with Cardiff City – to take young Ramsey to the Bluebirds a few months later.
The Arsenal midfielder spent his youth career at Cardiff City, where he gained interest from both Everton and Manchester United. But Ramsey snubbed both clubs, when Wenger flew out to Switzerland – where the Arsenal manager was working as a Euro 2008 pundit – to discuss what the Gunners could offer him. The Welsh midfielder believed that playing under Wenger would be beneficial to career, as the Arsenal manager had a knack of giving the youth ample minutes, whilst transforming these good players into great players.
Lewis, who is now the national sports development manager at Urrd, coached Ramsey for his entire footballing career prior to his move to Arsenal and was confident the young Welshman would succeed in the Premier League.
“Aaron has that kind of temperament that whatever obstacles get put in his way, he seems to rise above them,” Lewis stated in an interview after he snubbed Manchester United and Everton for Arsenal. “What Aaron does, compared with a lot of midfield players, is his first touch and thought is, ‘Can I get forward with the ball?’
Nevertheless, Ramsey overcame another obstacle in his delicate career, one that’s established himself as a fan favourite at the Emirates Stadium, while he undergoes the transition into a Premier League star. The absence of Mikel Arteta has seen the Welsh midfielder thrive playing in his natural position in the double-pivot – seeing as Ramsey would most likely feature on the bench had the Spaniard been fit.
The summer signings of Mathieu Flamini and world-class playmaker Mesut Ozil has also been beneficial to Ramsey’s growth. Flamini’s defensive-minded style offers Ramsey the license to roam forward and join the attack frequently, thus playing a factor to the eight goals he’s scored this season. Meanwhile, Ozil’s lateral movement has contributed to more gaps in midfield to attack – along with his ability to enhance the performance levels of his teammates.
Wenger’s idea to overload the midfield has also contributed to Ramsey’s offensive impetus. According to whoscored.com the Welshman’s passing has improved, as he currently possesses an 88.9% passing rate, averaging 77.4 passes per game in the Premier League. The multiple passing outlets in midfield allow the Arsenal midfielder to dictate matches from deep areas, and he’s thrived during Arteta’s absence.
Ramsey’s technical ability is astute, while his vision, proficient passing and willingness to motor forward have led to his superiority in deep areas. The Welshman now looks comfortable in the heart of the Arsenal midfield, as he robustly drives through the centre of the pitch with the confidence he lacked in recent years.
But the key to the 21-year-olds success thus far has been his ability to deliver on both ends of the field. His presence alongside Flamini has bolstered Arsenal’s protection of the backline, as the Welshman seems to cover every blade of grass on the pitch. More so, his involvement in tackles and interceptions in the Gunner’s third of the field has proved to be pivotal to their success as a unit.
Instead of being the feeble, Justin Bieber-esque looking player that was consistently bullied in midfield, Ramsey has developed a physical side to his game, as the need for a strong presence in midfield has elapsed many. The 22-year-old dynamo has averaged 5.2 tackles per game – the highest of any midfielder in the league – thus underlining his vast progress towards becoming a legitimate top-class midfielder.
Ramsey put all of his nightmares to rest last weekend, as he produced another scintillating performance against Stoke City, where he ironically scored, and celebrated radiantly. Wenger was full of praise of the Welshman in his post-match interview, stating, “He has a great engine, great spirit and has an obsession – he wants always to be better.”
Nevertheless, three years have passed since that tragic day in late February, and Ramsey looks to have fully recovered psychologically. The Welshman has become a key cog in an Arsenal side that aspires to end their eight-year trophy drought, and performances of this level will be pivotal to the North London side’s success. Ramsey’s will to improve is admirable, but his ability to overcome obstacles is remarkable, as he’s done so his entire life.