I am very fortunate today to welcome Martijn Stolze to ‘1nildown2one up. Many will know him on twitter @Hahostolze but certainly as a regular writer for one of the top Arsenal blogs, Arsenal Vision. His piece on the ‘Double Pivote’ is one of the best blogs of the season.
Martijn lived in England for 4 years from ages 6 to 10 when he and his family returned to Holland. In this short time at the beginning of his football education he witnessed the 97/98 free flowing Arsenal with 2 Dutch superstars to the fore. The rest as they say is history. Today he will be making an extremely persuasive argument in support of Aaron Ramsey….
When it comes to twitter, the blogosphere and other social media, one thing always seems to surprise me. That is the lack of love and appreciation for what is genuinely one of the game’s brightest young talents, Aaron Ramsey. It isn’t just Arsenal fans that suffer from this, it is prevalent all over the world, as far as in the realms of Football Weekly, where for some reason Paul Doyle said that in our recent matches Ramsey has shown a lack of assertiveness. Far be it from me to judge Mr Doyle’s footballing knowledge but in recent games, certainly against City and West Ham, he has shown his battling qualities, determination and an ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. I am unsure where this lack of assertiveness presented itself. But then again, I am a big fan of our young Welshman and as such I feel compelled to defend him for as long as I can. So today’s piece, is my assessment of Aaron Ramsey, his past and his present, and how I think he will be a brilliant player for years to come.
When we signed Aaron Ramsey he was quite the talent, someone who had already made a name for himself. The youngest ever player to represent Cardiff City at 16 years and 124 days, Arsenal supposedly made a bid for him in the summer of 2007, having followed him for a while. Whilst that bid never came to fruition, a year later we managed to sign him. And what a year it had been, indeed. His performances in the FA Cup, all the way until the final, were superb, and his league form was equally impressive. A childhood United fan, he was very close to signing for them, being led around their Carrington base by Gary Neville and David Gill before discussing the terms of his contract. Arsene Wenger stepped in shortly afterwards, and by sending over a private jet, managed to convince Ramsey and his parents to join him in the Alps, where he was commentating, and scouting at the Euro’s. Ramsey knew the wonders Arsene had worked with people like Fabregas and was eager to join a club so dedicated to obtain his signature. Whilst Man United actually put forward the transfer as official, we hijacked in a Park Chu-Young fashion. And for a fee of £5m (a bargain with hindsight) we signed one of the biggest talents in British football.
The world was at his feet. He may only have been seventeen at the time and barely have 20 first team games under his belt, but Ramsey was given 1st team opportunities straight away and would play quite a role in the 2008-2009 season. Who can forget him being one of the youngest ever scorers in Champions League history with a twenty yard drive vs. Fenerbahce? Or his gorgeous assist, slide rule through ball for Adebayor, on his league debut vs. Blackburn? Both were at the age of seventeen, a staggering maturity exuding from his frame. A very muscular frame, for our Aaron was a talented rugby player in his youth and he has that round shouldered, thick thighs look of a masculine man. The same masculinity which makes the arguments from Stoke fans, that of him being ‘an injury prone player with twigs for legs, who should have borne the brunt of the Shawcross tackle’, wildly redundant and insane. Anyway, during the season, he showed time and again an ability to show up and perform despite his youth. In fact, to many (myself included) he was our biggest talent, more so than Wilshere. To me he seemed more capable than any of our players of being the box to box, good passing and sharply finishing midfielder we needed. In fact, to me, he was ready to go further than Cesc did. He had the maturity, the physical ability to adapt to the British game, and all-round abilities almost second to none. He may not thread a pass like Cesc did, or dribble like Wilshere does, but he has all the attributes to make a phenomenal link between the defensive side of midfield, and attack.
And so he showed. In his first season for us he played 22 games at the ages of seventeen and eighteen. Those are some imposing figures, and there were some imposing performances, like versus Sheffield United and his future Wales manager Gary Speed, who was simply blown away by the midfield intricacies and brilliance of Ramsey and Wilshere. That match also showed us what might be a pivotal part of Arsenal’s future for the next decade or so, namely their ability to play together. The League Cup run that season was cut short by an impressive Burnley, but through no fault of Ramsey’s, who looked capable of leading that team all the way to the final. During this first season Ramsey showed his ability to adapt to different roles, both on the wing, behind the strikers and deeper, at the base of midfield. His all-round ability and his all-round playing style lends him to this versatility and his physical style means he can succeed.
His second season is still the one that gets me excited. To me that season was almost as great as the 2010-2011 breakthrough of Wilshere and whilst Jack showed a consistency and ability to keep things simple, Ramsey showed an ability to be a match winner and indeed the spark we need, which might be a more useful trait. His season began by scoring his first league goal, before bossing a few early CL and Carling Cup games, before being named Welsh Young Player of the Year. Looking back it is interesting to see how Ramsey, despite clearly being ready in a physical way, wasn’t playing quite as much as Fabregas did in the past, or Wilshere did in 2010-2011. I guess at the time, with a stable basis of Song, Denilson and Cesc, and subs like Diaby and Rosicky, (both returning from injury and more experienced) the playing time for Ramsey was more limited. Yet whenever he got the chance he grabbed it with two hands and did remarkably well. Against Stoke he was the man who made things happen, even though we played a tiny little Russian as a nominal striker (the first false nine?). Against Portsmouth he was the fulcrum of our midfield, made all things happen, and scored a wonderful goal very typical of his style. His low centre of gravity and his rugged build means he wraps his legs around the ball in a distinctive way, striking it very well but also shielding it when dribbling. It is very hard to describe without a full dictionary at your disposal, but, much like any really good footballer, Ramsey has a style of his own. His gorgeous goal versus Portsmouth was no fluke, as he showed against England and Italy U-21s for Wales, with two goals of absolute class. He was stamping very much his authority very on games, and demonstrating to the world what they had been waiting for.
Then came the 27th of February, 201 and the infamous incident. I have to admit I wasn’t watching myself, for I was in the car, on the way back from a skiing trip, following the BBC minute by minute report on my cell phone. When I read what happened I actually cried. I was so shocked. Slowly but certainly Ramsey had become my favourite member of the squad, a future Welsh dragon to build the team around when Cesc would inevitably leave for to the Catalan laboratory where they stored his DNA. We all knew that Stoke were a bunch of absolute bastards and I have always had a sneaking suspicion that the way Ramsey humiliated them with his swagger earlier that season might have had some sort of effect. Regardless, his leg had been broken in two places (tibia and fibula) and his career was in the balance. That moment was disastrous for his development, and we would not see him back for another nine months or so. He went on loan twice to Championship clubs, and whilst his intrinsic quality was still very visible, some of the spark had gone. As with Eduardo earlier, I feared we might have lost a player for good.
Whilst Ramsey should be commended on his quick return and remarkable recovery, he really wasn’t the same player any more. I don’t know what happened. Part of it must be physically, that yard of pace he lost, that core strength that was diminished. Part of it is psychological, for he seemed more hesitant to try the spectacular or go in for the tackle. But I also think that, at his age, being out of football for nine months was just hugely detrimental to his growth. To me, Ramsey isn’t quite the natural footballer as some others are, and he seemed, even when in his pre-injury prime, like a player who needs a millisecond more than others on the pitch. When he does do something, he does it excellently and in a team with great midfielders around you, that millisecond is not an issue. However when you are back from injury, still psychologically scarred, and needing to find your feet, that millisecond becomes an hour. His matches for Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City proved as much. Even last season, he too often had issues with the pace of the game. His mental recovery (as in, back to his best) takes longer than we might have expected. However, at his age, I think he can afford it. Look at Abou Diaby, who has the exact same problem. Diaby is a very natural footballer but not a natural ‘thinker’ in midfield. His decision making is slow and his awareness can be sloppy. Those things can be taught but when he was 20, he too had an injury which halted his progress and has since stopped him from playing regularly. When he does play, his abilities are very clear, yet so are his faults. His injuries and arrested development have prevented him improving as he might have done. Aaron Ramsey has age on his side, and hasn’t got quite the niggling problems that Diaby has had. All can still be well.
His finest achievement since his return to fitness has been the match against Man United. Playing alongside Wilshere and anchored (at least back when he did anchor) by Song, they overran the midfield and dominated the game, Ramsey scoring the only goal. That match was a glittering performance so soon after injury and it hinted at an interesting and promising future. Not only did it rekindle the Wilshere and Ramsey partnership, but it showed that Ramsey was far from unsalvageable, as many had feared. The future with the two of them as Arsenal midfielders remains bright. Yet so many still criticise Ramsey and I always wonder why. Yes, at times, his passing is a little sloppy but so far this season his accuracy is at 90%. That is only marginally lower than that of Joe Allen, who everyone lauds for his passing consistency. Ramsey doesn’t linger on the ball as much anymore either and his new found energy and assertive aggression are there for all to see. So why are Arsenal fans so keen to get on his back? To me it is a mystery. He has the mentality to rebound time and time again from bad news. He works so hard and he seems very mature indeed. He is the kind of fighter we need, such as Carl Jenkinson and Jack Wilshere have shown themselves to be. As for potential, he has that ability to be our Gerrard, with a little Lampard mixed in. A driving force in midfield, not the prettiest passer, not the metronome, but energy and creativity combined with a knack of arriving in front of goal at the right time. As a finisher, generally, he has always impressed me.
Was last season really that bad? No. In fact, last season, Ramsey did very well. He was only 20 years old, and had been out with a broken leg for nearly a year. Yet he still scored, assisted and endeavoured, very hard sometimes, to run a rudderless midfield. This was before Arteta found his new role, and at times, we really did lack a playmaker. Ramsey is not a natural playmaker but never hid and continually worked for his team. Yet if you listen to some sections of Arsenal fans, he was basically supposed to be as good as Cesc and running the midfield every match. Even that douche of a captain we had would harangue and harass Ramsey after bad performances, himself oblivious to the years of injury worries he himself had and the agonising inconsistency of his younger years. Now be honest, for a 20 year old, abused by your captain, in a midfield searching for direction, after a shattering injury (in more ways than one), trying your absolute hardest, (as he always does) did he really do that badly? No. And Ramsey doesn’t hide. When he doesn’t play well, he runs more. If he gives the ball away, he wants to win it back. He is the anti-Denilson, yet people look at him like he is something unpleasant on the bottom of their shoe. I am constantly staggered by this. With all this taken into account, 44 matches, 3 goals, and 8 assists… is that really that bad? He was made captain of his country by a manager who was very astute at seeing the ability of Ramsey on the pitch and the maturity off it. Maybe it came too soon but Ramsey never hid. He never does.
And finally we can look to the future. With Aaron Ramsey getting better and better we can think about his best position. And whilst I do think he has one (namely the second midfielder in a 4-3-3, the carrier between DM and AM) I think for the time being his best strength is his versatility. He can be a winger when we need someone to pressure the opposition. He was a winger in his formative years and still seems very capable there, in positional terms. He isn’t the fastest but neither is he slow. Against Chelsea and MCFC he demonstrated that this role suits him well. He can also cover Cazorla as the advanced player behind the striker. His energy, movement and finishing are excellent and his part of the passing game is very good. In addition he can play further back, using his stamina and tenacity to help our pivote, which at the moment is Arteta. We already know he can play alongside Wilshere and that might very well be our future. At the moment to me it is pivotal, absolutely essential, however, that we just give Aaron some time. For the last year he has suffered so much. Gary Speed died and then Chris Coleman took over and stripped him of his captaincy and confidence. He had RvP riding him all year about a few mistakes and ridiculing him in an interview in the FT. He had the crowd on his back far more than he deserved but look how has bounced back. He is only 21, yet has over 100 first team appearances for Arsenal and 144 in total, incredible considering he missed nine months due to Stoke. At the moment he is still an excellent player, so full of potential and brimming with energy. In my mind England would be lucky to have him and he would start ahead of Cleverley or Carrick. At Arsenal right now, he is my second choice CM, behind Diaby, and my second choice AM, behind Cazorla. His versatility means that he will play. His talent means he will shine, over time. Calls for him to go on loan and play a full season in the PL were not wrong, in my opinion, but at the moment, with people like Arteta, Cazorla and Podolski to teach him, he is in the right place to learn. I can seriously hardly think of a more technical, tenacious and wonderful midfield trio in our future than that of Wilshere-Ramsey-Coquelin.
In summary I am still shocked by the hatred for Aaron Ramsey, even in the Gooner family on twitter. If you believe these people he is a deer in the headlights, a moronic Bambi on ice-skates who can’t pass nor defend, let alone attack. Yet he is so much more than many will give him credit for. Like Wilshere and similarly to our current mentality, he doesn’t hide. He works his socks off during matches and often has very high ‘metres run’ stats after matches. His scoring rate is good for midfield, although should improve and his assists, as last season showed, are picking up. Last season all the flash stuff was done by Alex Song. This season it is Cazorla picking up the praise, yet Aaron Ramsey just does what he does, and does it very well. Maybe he will never reach the heights we once thought he would reach. But then, how many players have suffered an injury like that (including the psychological effect) and come back 100%? Before his injury he was destined to be one of the finest midfielders in the world. I still think he can, and will, be. However as long as he is the hardworking, good passing, technically capable midfielder he is now, his price tag is well worth it. His potential is still so abundant that it makes me giddy with excitement just thinking of him Jack, Cazorla, Arteta, Diaby, Rosicky and the up and coming talents all as our options in midfield. So people… back off the pressure on young Aaron. After what he has been through, to get where he is, is a Herculean task. Eduardo never recovered and returned to his pre-injury heights. Diaby has arguably not quite recovered. Kieron Dyer, Alan Smith… so many others never really recovered. We should be proud of the fact Ramsey is still playing at the level he is, rather than get on his back. And I hope that, in the future, he can turn his potential into more. He has the mentality, the fight, the ability and this Dutch Gunner will support him every step of the way.
Thanks Martjin. A well researched, thoughtful and impassioned case made for young Aaron Ramsey. I am delighted that you have chosen to write a blog for this site and grateful that is was one as powerful as this.
From my perspective it reminds me of a blog I myself wrote back in April when the fans you have highlighted were giving Ramsey such flack. I suggested he might look to another multi-purpose Arsenal midfielder for his inspiration. Ray Parlour in 10 seasons with Arsenal was one of the most popular players year in year out and no one has plated for us more in the EPL. Yet in how many of those seasons was Ray a guaranteed starter in the same position? Late Nineties, right midfield, early naughties, centre midfield and in the last few seasons utlitiy from the bench. The ‘Real Romford Pele’ is a legend of our club because he could play anywhere in the midfield and never once complained when not in the side. I am persuaded by Martijn that Ramsey may just be about to follow Razor and write his name in a new period of our history.
Ramsey can learn from Pele – http://1nildown2oneup.net/ramsey-can-learn-from-pele/
Until next time thanks for reading.
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