x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Aaron Ramsey is back and relishing role makeover at Arsenal

His defensive abilities are to be tested fully but the withdrawn midfielder is getting a confidence boost in a roller-coaster of a career.

A broken leg affected Aaron Ramsey mentally as well physically at a crucial time in his career. Michael Regan  / Getty Images
A broken leg affected Aaron Ramsey mentally as well physically at a crucial time in his career. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Aaron Ramsey is only 22 but already his Arsenal career, which began with a move from Cardiff City in 2008, is looking like entering its fourth phase.

First there was the young talent, spotted only in glimpses, making occasional appearances in cup games and as a substitute in the Premier League.

When he notched his first goal for the club, against Fenerbahce in that first season, he became the fifth youngest player ever to score in the Uefa Champions League, and only the second born in the nineties.

After an FA Cup tie against West Ham United in 2009, his manager Arsene Wenger said he resembled "an offence-minded Roy Keane".

Ramsey seemed the great hope of Arsenal's midfield. But the first phase of his Emirates career was end in brutal fashion. In a game at Stoke City in February 2010, Ramsey nudged the ball past Ryan Shawcross just as the defender attempted to clear.

Shawcross's kick broke both bones in his lower leg and Ramsey became a martyr.

When Arsenal fans, frustrated at their lack of success since 2005, claimed they were being bullied by opponents, it was his name and that of Eduardo (who had got the other goal in the cup tie against West Ham and had suffered a broken leg against Birmingham City) that were cited.

His rehabilitation took time and loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City.

He became a regular again in 2011/12 but over that season and the one that followed, Ramsey began to feel fans' disillusionment, his form not helped by often being played on the right flank.

Martyr he may have been, but saviour he was not, and as Arsenal's long purgatory of third- and fourth-place finishes continued, fans began to question what exactly it was that Ramsey did.

Last season in the league, he scored just one goal and set up two. He averaged two tackles per game, the 79th most in the league, according to whoscored.com, while making 1.2 interceptions (132nd).

Ramsey essentially does a bit of everything, while keeping the ball moving - his pass success rate was 30th best in the league.

This season, though, Ramsey has been a revelation.

His pairing with Jack Wilshere at the back of midfield may have been exposed by the pace of Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, but in the Champions League play-off, Fenerbahce failed to put them under pressure.

The two created chances from deep to great effect, Ramsey scoring in the away leg and then two back at the Emirates - the second a delicious controlled volley - as Arsenal won 5-0 on aggregate.

He was excellent in an understated way alongside Tomas Rosicky in the 3-1 win over Fulham last week as well.

Ramsey himself believes he is only just getting over the broken leg. "Confidence is such a big thing in this game and I feel like that's definitely been the biggest change," he said.

"Towards the back end of last season and into the new season I've felt so much more confident out there and I think that's the biggest change really.

"I've always been getting into the positions, even last season, but maybe I've not been so composed in the shot to score the goal. I feel confident at the moment and things are just happening naturally out there.

"I think with the injury I had, it takes a long time to overcome that mentally. I'm over that now and I feel like I'm confident again. "

The concern is whether Ramsey is defensively capable enough for the role he has been asked to play. With Wilshere or Rosicky, even with Mikel Arteta when he returns to fitness, there is no real commanding presence at the back of midfield.

Villa exposed a persistent failing: that Arsenal are great with the ball and terribly vulnerable without it.

Today will come as a huge test for Ramsey, assuming he has recovered from the groin he tweaked against Fenerbahce.

He has gone three games without really being tested defensively, but there is no doubt Tottenham Hotspurs' hulking midfield, full of 6ft-plus technically gifted monsters, will put him under pressure.

If he can thrive in that environment, then the fourth age of Ramsey might truly have begun.


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