Aaron Ramsey has always struck me as a team player.
Ask him for an honest answer and the Welshman would, I suspect, confess that playing out wide doesn’t float his boat. Yet without fuss, or any hint of a perturbed ego, the midfielder sucks it up and gets on with the job his manager asks him to do.
It pities me to describe that attitude as ‘old-fashioned’ but it probably is.
Arsene Wenger isn’t blind to the 24-year-old’s qualities. Everything about the runs he makes, the passes he attempts, the tackles, the energy, the variety of his forward play, screams ‘box-to-box central midfielder’.
Unfortunately for Ramsey, there’s not been space for one of those in the Arsenal XI.
For 11 months, the nicely balanced enforcer-playmaker combo of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla has by and large, been a roaring success.
Coquelin’s knee injury, however unwanted, does at least present an opportunity for change - and I’m starting to think it could be the making of a fit -again Aaron Ramsey.
While the notion of slipping another ‘stopper’ into the Arsenal side to plug the hole vacated by Le Coq makes sense on paper (and shouldn’t in theory affect the equilibrium) my hunch says it’s better for the Welsh utility man to be handed the keys instead.
It’s not that proposed short-term choices Mathieu Flamini or Calum Chambers aren’t suitable, or good enough. Naturally defensive, they’ll do just fine whenever asked.
The wider issue is this; what does Santi Cazorla need around him to thrive? And the answer isn’t just, any old ball winner.
As skillful as the Spaniard is, he doesn’t have ‘legs’, which means somebody with athleticism, strength and mobility is needed alongside to ensure he’s not exposed. Coquelin’s style is tailor-made to compensate for those deficiencies, and to let Cazorla shine.
Providing he’s able to channel his energy in a more disciplined and defensive mindset, I believe Aaron Ramsey would be the best fit to fill in for the crocked Frenchman.
The Wales international tackles hard, he intercepts regularly, he passes cleanly, and loves to get himself on the ball. More importantly, he’s a bouncy coiled spring that can run all day. Covering around 1km more than any of his teammates per game, Ramsey has the requisite-sized motor to patrol the midfield heartland, and let Cazorla get on with what he does best.
There are two question marks.
Can Ramsey, a player that’s scored 27 goals in the last two and a bit seasons, curb his natural urge to push forward?
And is he capable of shifting the ball simply and quickly, without hanging on to it too long?
If he can’t adapt, Wenger won’t consider him for the role - but at 24 I see no reason why he doesn’t have the maturity to modify his style until Coquelin returns. He’s successfully developed an unorthodox approach that works for him in a wide position, so should be capable of doing something similar infield.
Upcoming fixtures aren’t especially unkind, and that’s important to consider.
Clashes with Manchester City (Dec 21) and Southampton (Dec 26) will test everyone involved, but Norwich City, Sunderland, Olympiakos, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Newcastle United make up the rest of Arsenal’s workload between now and the 2nd of January.
If the Gunners play to their potential and control those contests, it might be the perfect time to bed him in next to Cazorla at the base of their midfield.
Two years may have passed since Aaron Ramsey produced the purplest of purple patches you could ever wish to see, but he’s still a classy all-round midfielder.
Francis Coquelin’s absence may just give him the platform to remind us of that.