As reliable reports emerge, confirming that contract negotiations between Arsenal and Aaron Ramsey have reached a stalemate, with the club withdrawing their offer, I took some time to reflect on the Welshman’s time at the club. 10 years at Arsenal, 240 appearances, and a slew of career-stalling injuries later, and his story is one of missed opportunities tinged with moments and memories I will never forget.
In the modern era, the word ‘legend’ gets thrown around like Mike Dean throws around yellow cards. I wouldn’t want to contribute to that, but someone needs to come up with a halfway-house that aptly summarises what Aaron Ramsey should mean to arsenal, and Arsenal fans. I’ll delve into the weeds later, but this is the man who at just 19 suffered one of the most sickening injuries in modern football, and then managed to establish himself as a regular just over a year later, became the star man two years after that, and ended the famous trophy drought with the 2014 FA Cup Final winner. I don’t think it is possible to overstate just how much that goal meant to me. Not only as an Arsenal fan, who had suffered the taunting of the ‘4th place trophy’ and dusty cabinet for years, but as someone with Welsh heritage, and raised to be proud of it. Sitting, tapping away at my keyboard, I can see the goal in my mind now, and its one I don’t think I will ever forget. On an emotional level, few goals evoke such a visceral recollection like the deft finish past the Hull goalkeeper does. A typically ‘Arsenal’ goal, scored in a typically ‘Arsenal’ match, during a typically ‘Arsenal’ season, by arguably the most typically ‘Arsenal’ player of the modern Wenger era. He embodies the good and bad of post-2007/8 Arsenal. Capable of flashes of brilliance, exquisite passing and finishing, but equally adept at pulling performances right out of the bottom drawer, selfish displays of arrogance, occasional indifference and obviously the injuries.
Attempting to put emotions aside, something which a lot of Arsenal fans struggle to do with Ramsey, I think his departure is both logical and illogical.
Reports suggest that a contract had been agreed by both sides, then there was a period of ‘distance’, after which the contract was withdrawn. Is it a coincidence that it happened around the same time Stan Kroenke became the majority shareholder, and Ivan Gazidis left the club as CEO? In my opinion, probably not, especially when you consider how keen Emery was to stress Ramsey’s importance in preseason. There had always seemed to be some tension over whether or not he would sign an extension, so it always seemed to make more sense to me to sell him in the Summer, rather than risk a repeat of the Sanchez and Ozil situations.
On the logical side, it is clear to me that Ramsey doesn’t fit into this current system at Arsenal. He and Ozil are an uncomfortable squeeze into a side where you want both in an attacking role with 2 deeper midfielders. Shunting the German to the flanks doesn’t utilise his talents, and compromises that flank defensively. Given the commitment Arsenal made as a club with his new deal in January, it seems stupid not to try to get the best out of him by putting him in the middle. Add to the impressive impact more natural wide players have had in Ramsey’s stet, predominantly Iwobi but Mkhitaryan too has shown promise, and the Welshman increasingly looks like a square peg in a round hole. His involvement in games has neither been as statistically dominant or visibly noticeable; in the ground you can often forget that he is there.
So with all these factors, maybe letting him go makes sense after all? Despite how supremely talented I think he is, and the emotional connection I have to him, the current circumstances and set up of the side are not such that he is essential. If it were up to me, I would at least try playing him as a deeper midfielder with Torreira. Like Wenger before him, Emery appears wedded to Xhaka, so that seems unlikely, and so we circle back to the question – why keep him, and probably more interestingly given his lack of form, why keep playing him? As things stand, I would move Ozil centrally to let him shine and give Iwobi a reward for his deserved patience following impressive cameos.