Aaron Ramsey is resilient—there is no doubt about that. Despite a horrific leg break and several loan spells, the midfielder has made over 100 appearances for Arsenal in his young career. But without a defined role and with the imminent acquisition of more midfield talent this summer, Ramsey could have a torrid time finding the pitch next season.
Limited opportunities and poor form led to criticism early in the campaign, but Ramsey managed to right the ship in the final months of the year.
After a string of solid performances, Arsenal assistant manager Steve Bould indicated that Ramsey was growing as a player. In April, Bould told the club website:
Aaron has been fantastic. Seeing him in day-to-day training, he works extremely hard. He never moans, gets on with his game and has done everything he's been asked to do. He's physically fantastic and he gives something to the team. I think he's improving all the time.
Ramsey is a worthy recipient of such praise. He is far from a staple in the starting lineup, but his remarkable versatility gives Arsenal options.
Yet Ramsey was rarely a first-choice option in the midfield. He began the season on the bench, as a briefly fit Abou Diaby played the defensive role in Arsenal's midfield trio. Though injuries and tactical changes (Santi Cazorla to left-wing) have given Ramsey a number of avenues to find the field, he seems to be most comfortable when he gets time in the center of the pitch.
Unfortunately for the Welshman, Arsenal look set to add more depth to that area this summer, providing Ramsey with more competition for significant time. The Guardian reports that the Gunners are preparing a bid for Marouane Fellaini, while ESPN reports that Arsenal are closing in on Victor Wanyama—both moves would spur shifts throughout the midfield.
Ramsey has been touted as a jack-of-all-trades type of player. He has adapted to changes in the squad before by spending time as an outside back, holding midfielder, playmaker and even a winger.
Despite his flexibility—or perhaps because of it—Ramsey has been unable to direct his efforts toward one area of expertise.
Ramsey has found his way onto the field 47 times this year in all competitions, but his inability to own a position means he is often left out of the first XI. Though he made 36 Premier League appearances, 15 came from the substitutes' bench.
His lack of offensive production may be to blame.
Would the acquisition of Fellaini or Wanyama hamper Ramsey's progression?
In his 36 league appearances, Ramsey managed just two assists and one goal from 46 shots. Mikel Arteta—a regular in the holding role—produced three assists and six goals from a mere 19 shots. Even Tomas Rosicky—who managed just 10 appearances in league play—assisted once and scored twice from 10 shots.
When choosing attacking midfielders, Wenger prefers Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. In the holding role, Abou Diaby and Arteta are ahead of Ramsey in the pecking order. Adding Fellaini or Wanyama would only complicate the Welshman’s place in the side.
It is simply too easy to make the case for others to start in front of Aaron Ramsey. While he is a solid physical presence and a great passer, his lack of offensive production raises question marks.
The boy has talent, but right now that is not enough. Arteta, Wilshere, and Cazorla are too impressive to overcome, and the acquisition of Wanyama or Fellaini—perhaps both—would severely limit Ramsey's chances.