Rambo: Gunner or Goner?

Now that he has signed a new long-term deal shouldn’t we support him to get back to his best?

Since it is near impossible to say anything good or bad about anything Arsenal without being accused of either being delusional or depressingly cynical, I hope you’ll forgive me for just writing my opinion as a Gooner and a fan of the game. There is not much I can write or say that hasn’t been written or said about Aaron Ramsey. This is simply my attempt as an Arsenal fan to defend a player I have always liked and to bring a sense of balance to the outlook on this young Welshman.

Any article about Ramsey would be incomplete without the mention of that horrific double leg break he sustained at the Britannia Stadium. In fact every analysis about him basically boils down to a pre and post injury discussion. When we signed him on in June 2008 from Cardiff City as a 17 year old, he had been widely touted as a hot prospect, one who was certainly on his way to Manchester United until Arsene Wenger swooped in.

 ” He is a player with a fantastic engine, good build, good technique and good vision” (Wenger)

Ramsey stayed true to this potential with some impressive performances off the bench before being granted more regular starts, and signed a new long-term contract in 2009. Physically assured, creative, direct, with a good eye for a pass and a strong finisher, he looked all set to slowly cement his place in an Arsenal midfield with the likes of Fabregas, Rosicky, Diaby and Nasri before that fateful day on February 27, 2010.

You can tell that the psychological impact of that break still lingers on in his mind when he hesitates to go in for a certain tackle. It has taken a toll physically as well. He was never the Walcott sort of pacy player but he’s lost much of the speed that he had and much of the kind of game he was used to playing. And yet that 1-0 win against Manchester United was largely down to him, a wonderful performance soon after his return from injury where he not only scored a winner but showed exactly what he’s still capable of doing. Ramsey linked up well with the likes of Wilshere and Song, and the trio bossed the midfield and kept much of United at bay where it mattered. He showed more glimpses of this potential playing a superb first half of the season in his first full season back.

For me the problem started when his form drastically dropped in the second half of his first full season back. To be fair having to play 44 games after you’ve just recovered from a potentially career-ending injury falls into the category of unnecessarily high expectations. Somewhere along the way he became the Arsenal scapegoat, the boo-boy to be blamed for absolutely anything and everything that goes wrong at the club and I think it’s commendable that the lad hasn’t cracked under all that negativity and utter bile. But there’s no denying that he is struggling right now with belief and confidence. This struggle is reflected in his inconsistency, his tendency to linger on the ball for that extra few seconds making him susceptible to losing the ball in dangerous areas, his visible lack of confidence when it comes to composure in finishing. His long passing/crossing game needs work but if you look at his passing accuracy this season it’s generally in the high 80s and 90s, suggesting that his impact on a game can be easy to ignore. His main problem is confidence, a lack of which makes his talents and technical skills appear much less than they are.

It doesn’t help that for the most part he has been played out of position. He doesn’t have the skills or the pace to be a good winger (more so since his crossing still needs work) and the insistence on playing him there just exacerbates the vicious cycle the Welshman finds himself in. He needs stability in terms of playing regularly through his preferred position in the centre of midfield. But given his current form and the sudden competition for places with Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere, Rosicky etc, these opportunities do seem far and few. In Diaby’s absence, I’d have liked to see him pair Arteta more often but I’m not sure his defensive understanding is quite up to the mark yet to effectively be a midfield pivot. The assured ease that Wilshere possess to convert defence into attack was never in his repertoire. His skills are best utilised when he plays in front of a pivot, linking up with the other midfield players and the wingers, (effectively a CAM) and this was evident when he got the chance versus City (1-1 playing away to the defending champions in a game that we deserved to win – definitely one of Rambo’s and Arsenal’s best performances this season) and West Ham. In both games we could see his determination to get stuck in, his fighting spirit and glimpses of the passing that made him such an attractive footballer to watch before his injury.

What’s more, you never hear him complaining or offering excuses even through the worst kind of abuse. He never hides and you cannot fault him for work-rate or effort even when he’s playing badly. It shows character and the hope that he can come through this phase stronger and better. He’s still only 21 and I don’t condone booing our own players however frustrated you are at them, least of all the younger ones. For me the desire and passion is important, a desire evident in his recent interview for Arsenal.com.

“Next year I want to progress as a player and turn into the player that I know I am capable of turning into. I know I still have a few things to learn. My aim is hopefully to show what I’m capable of doing on a more regular basis, and to get more goals as well … That’s something I need to improve on. I need to be a bit more composed in those final situations.”

This self-awareness shows a maturity that not many people credit him for. He knows he isn’t the player he once was, that he can maybe never go back, but wants to keep improving, learning and giving himself a fair chance. Now I know what many of you will say, football is a results-oriented business and if a player isn’t performing we cannot afford to wait for something that may never come. But personally, I think it’s a risk worth taking. Ramsey may not be the player he showed the potential to be before the injury, but he still has the makings to be a very good one, even if it is different to his earlier flair.

One thing that could help is a loan spell away to regain confidence, regular playing time in his favoured position and a chance to play and improve without crushing expectations. Another would be for either Arsene or Bould to get him to simplify his game a bit until he can find his groove. Too many times does he try to find that extra creative pass or do the more difficult thing and ends up giving the ball away. Maybe it would do him good to take fewer touches and react more instinctively, especially since he was always a second or so slower than the others.

What I do understand is that as a top flight club we have certain expectations and standards for our players and performances (I’m not talking about unattainable, impossibly high ones here). It is fine to be disappointed or frustrated when someone doesn’t live up to them and ecstatic when they do. But what I don’t understand is deliberately making someone a target and then showering them with relentless vitriol, most of it unfair, undeserved and downright irrational (There is an ‘Aaron Ramsey Sucks Forum’ for crying out loud!). A situation where every tiny mistake is blown up out of proportion simply to support the convoluted theory and where they are blamed for everything that goes wrong. To a player already going through a bad patch, is this the sort of trauma you want to subject him to? Or should you be supporting him as a part of the club you claim to love so much?

I refuse to believe the faction claiming that just because so many people are of a certain opinion; it is somehow automatically the right thing. You may not rate him as a player, but that doesn’t make him (or any other player for that matter) fair game for abuse. I still believe Aaron has the talent and potential to be a very good player for Arsenal and an important part of our future midfield. He’s one of 5 exciting young talents to pledge long term commitment to Arsenal. With what looks like a busy transfer window coming up, there might still be hope to salvage something from this season. It’s onwards and upwards with the Arsenal, bring on 2013!

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Anushree Nande

Published writer and editor. Hope is her superpower (unsurprisingly she's a Gooner), but sport, art, music and words are good substitutes.