Back in the olden days when I was a young, frizzy-haired midfielder yet to pen his first column in anger, there was one thing I loathed more than any other when I was out on the pitch. Tracking ‘busy’ runners.
Facing players that are willing to repeatedly run off you; adversaries who will happily drag you backwards or sideways at moments when you’re still breathing out of your backside from the last chase, are a monumental pain in the you-know-what.
If they boast as much quality as they do athleticism the problem intensifies. Those guys are highly valuable commodities.
This, in a nutshell, is why Arsene Wenger (and by all accounts Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho too) are huge fans of Aaron Ramsey. He’s the kind of midfielder opponents hate coming up against, and we’ve seen that during the Welshman’s barnstorming start to Euro 2016.
Back in north London the Wales hero has plenty of critics. Some don’t believe he’s anything special, and although I disagree, there are limitations in his make-up.
Ramsey will sometimes try one trick too many, hold onto the ball for too long, or attempt an over ambitious pass. His defensive discipline in a midfield two has also, rightly, been called into question.
He doesn’t keep the ball as beautifully as Santi Cazorla, or turn on a sixpence as spectacularly as Alexis. He doesn’t have the pace of Walcott, the grace of Ozil, the feet of Wilshere, or the diligence of Coquelin either.
But, and this is a hugely important but, Ramsey does have a level a dynamism that if used correctly, can make him just as effective as any of those other guys.
Where does he fit in at the Emirates?
Plenty disagree but I like him best in a wide of centre, attacking midfield role.
He doesn’t hug the touchline, he never will, but when freed up from the worries of protecting his central defenders, the 25-year-old can use his boundless energy in a far more proactive, and relentlessly dangerous way.
Playing as one of two free(ish) attacking midfielders for Wales, instead of as part of a three for Arsenal, we’ve borne witness to what he’s all about at Euro 2016.
Off the ball his remit has been to frenetically close down the nearest defender. On it, Chris Coleman has told him to run free and be ‘a pain in the you-know-what’.
Working brilliantly in tandem with Gareth Bale it’s impossible to argue he’s been anything but highly destructive in both aspects of the game.
He can do that for the Gunners too.
Pushed on and accommodated higher upfield, Ramsey makes runs at unusual angles that confuse defenders, he stretches teams, he forces them to drop deeper, he gives them something different to worry about, he gets them back pedaling on the counter, and even if he doesn’t receive a pass he’ll often have made space for a teammate.
I spent last Thursday afternoon in the company of former England caretaker manager Peter Taylor, and he said Ramsey would walk into Roy Hodgson’s team, and he’s right. The Three Lions are crying out for somebody to break the lines with a run, rather than playing the safe pass in front of defenders all the time.
The way I see it, when Ramsey keeps things nice and simple, playing to his strengths, there are very few mobile attacking midfielder runners who can create the havoc he can. His 18-goal haul in 2013-14 doesn’t have to be an anomaly.
I expect a fair bit of transfer activity at Arsenal in the coming months, but Aaron Ramsey is a player that needs to remain.
There aren’t too many others like him.
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