Last January I penned a column entitled, ‘In Defence of Aaron Ramsey’. In it, I remember urging a section of frustrated Arsenal fans to get off the young Welshman’s back.
The thrust behind my argument was a hunch that Ramsey had the potential to develop into an influential central midfielder for the Gunners - providing he was given a run in his preferred position.
Though less gifted than his team-mates, I liked his all-action drive and spirit. I felt his abilities were undervalued, and feared persistent moaning and groaning about his deficiencies would stunt that development. Such was my confidence I even dared to compare him with one of the club’s former great unsung heroes, Ray Parlour.
The article divided opinion. Plenty thought I was living in cloud cuckoo land. Of the rest, even those who admitted he should be ‘given a chance’ scoffed at the Romford Pele analogy. Nine months on, I confess that I was wrong. Aaron Ramsey can be even better than that; I underestimated him.
Nobody who has watched Arsenal closely since March will have been surprised by the 22-year-old’s outstanding performance against Fenerbahce in Istanbul last night. On an evening of intense pressure he delivered an imposing, dominant display that has all but handed the Gunners a 16th successive taste of the Champions League proper. It wasn’t a one-off either, merely a continuation of the form he’s exhibited for six months.
Before then Ramsey was perceived as a solid stand-in, capable of covering for absentees at right-back, right-wing, left-wing, or attacking midfield. Rarely were there enough central midfield players missing for him to be handed a start in the heart of the Arsenal engine room.
Lacking the trickery and burst of pace you need to play in the wide areas Ramsey would do OK on the flanks, but compared with those specialists he’d stepped in for he’d look second rate.
It was a similar story in behind the front man. Here, Ramsey would show eagerness and enthusiasm aplenty, but the quick feet, invention and ability to see a pass before others (that Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere possessed) was lacking. It didn’t do him any favours. His confidence waned, and with that, came an inevitable dip in performance levels. Then, as the murmurs of discontent from the stands got louder, his confidence drained even further.
This vicious cycle continued until Alex Song was sold, and then later, when Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere were struck down by long term injuries. Finally he was given a run in his favoured centre midfield berth. He hasn’t looked back.
Aaron Ramsey is still only 22. He already has 26 caps for his country, and is fast approaching 200 first team appearances in English football. That’s incredible for a footballer of his age.
Until now the only thing that’s held the Welshman back is confidence. Surrounded by teammates such as Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that draw more attention, I sensed he may have questioned whether he really belonged at a club like Arsenal.
He answered that question emphatically in Istanbul. In fact, he’d already answered it last season when producing a string of man of the match performances in the Premier League run-in.
Athletic, technical, powerful, intelligent, hard-working and dynamic; Aaron Ramsey has all that it takes to become a very, very good central midfielder. In fact the more I see him develop, the more I picture Steven Gerrard. If Aaron believes he can become that good, I think he just might.
Read Adrian Clarke's "Professionally Speaking" column every Thursday on Unibet.
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