Has Aaron Ramsey improved upon last season?
Olivier Giroud has claimed headlines for scoring three goals in Arsenal's opening three games; Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Wilshere are the undoubted creative forces; and Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have earned kudos for their command of Arsenal's back line.
There are many stars earning praise in Arsene Wenger's young team. However, there is one player who is playing just as well, if not better, than those mentioned. He is the perfect example of a players' player and is going about his business with quiet aplomb. Ramsey has been nothing but excellent this season.
Ramsey was utilized by Wenger in a number of positions last season. He played all over midfield and even featured on both flanks. He was fast on the road to becoming a "jack of all-trades and a master of none."
This term, however, his manager has seen fit to play him in center midfield in an anchor role. As Spiderman would tell you, "with great power comes great responsibility." In football the opposite can be true: With great responsibility comes great power.
Ramsey has taken on the role of disciplined midfield anchor with gusto. His play alone has provided the foundation for Arsenal's last four games. The Gunners have won all four, scored nine goals and conceded just one.
This new solidity and influence—as can be seen in the FourFourTwo Stats Zone capture above—is down to the mobility, tenacity and composure shown by Ramsey.
It is not just statistical sites and football analysts who are noticing Ramsey's contribution. In the aftermath of Arsenal's 2-0 win against Fenerbahce, Theo Walcott spoke to the Independent about the Welshman.
You can see a lot of improvements in players this year, especially in Aaron [Ramsey].
He's worked very hard in pre-season.
He ended last season very well, but this season he's taken off and hit a new level.
Ramsey, of course, had to work extremely hard to get back into squad contention never mind the Arsenal team. It was not all that long ago that people feared his career may be over after suffering a horrific injury against Stoke City in February 2010.
The road back to form has been long and hard for Ramsey.
His return from injury came in November of the same year, but was subsequently loaned out to Nottingham Forest and then Cardiff City. After that Championship stint he returned to the Arsenal team against Manchester United in the FA Cup.
Later that season he even scored his first goal for the club and won the man-of-the-match award against the Red Devils in an end of season cracker at the Emirates.
After the game an emotional Ramsey spoke to Sky Sports.
Scoring the goal was a special moment for me.
This was worth the wait and so many people have helped me through the tough time I had, hopefully this will give them the same satisfaction as it does me.
After these remaining games, hopefully I can come back and have a good pre-season, and then go again next year. Our target was just to win the remaining games, so we have started on that.
Hopefully now we can continue this and let's see where that takes us.
Ramsey's injury has given him a fresh look at life—and at football. The key line in the above statement is "let's see where that takes us." It offers an insight into an optimistic frame of mind.
The goal against United really announced his comeback. But it has been a long and arduous road between that strike in 2011 and his three goals against Fenerbahce in 2013. It has taken him almost 80 games to return to the level he was playing at in 2010 before the injury.
When first signed by Arsenal he was similar to a young Roy Keane—circa Nottingham Forest. Ramsey's game was all about power, pace and breaking from midfield. Five years worth of experience, combined with overcoming a potentially career-ending injury, have turned Ramsey into a vastly different player.
He now plays like Keane with a zen frame of mind.
He still possesses great mobility—on and off the ball—energy and honesty. But his play is now tempered by instinctive decision making, greater positional knowledge, strength and experience that belies his young age.
Looking at Ramsey this season and remembering that he has been with Arsenal since 2008, it is hard to believe that he is only 22.
That fact has not been lost on Wenger who spoke to the Daily Express about the youngster.
Ramsey is 22 and Wilshere 21, so they can only get better.
They have fantastic qualities and fantastic engines. People don’t realize they have something special here.
When you have players like that, you know you have real quality for the next five or six years.
That kind of pride and patience is not rated any more. It has just disappeared. People just want more and more. It’s consumerism at any cost.
Ramsey produced his best Arsenal performances against Fenerbahce and most recently Tottenham Hotspur. He contributed vastly different games in the two matches. Against Fenerbahce he broke from deep time-after-time and scored three goals.
Against Spurs he played a far more disciplined role and protected his back-four superbly. The infographic above shows his defensive influence against three of the most powerful and mobile midfielders in Europe.
Paulinho, Mousa Dembele and Etienne Capoue will beat many teams through power alone. But when faced with the mobility and guile of Ramsey they were left wanting. The Arsenal No. 16 recovered the ball from a breaking position 10 times, won seven of 11 tackles, and made three interceptions.
His defensive contribution was easily the best on show. Far from sticking to a purely defensive role, Ramsey dictated the tempo of the game with 43 passes from 55. When Wilshere was removed for Mathieu Flamini, Ramsey became the linchpin of the Arsenal team.
Giroud may have been man of the match but Ramsey was the most important man on the park. And that's the key. Ramsey is now a man. He has shaken off the look of a boy and is showing the experience of a player 10-years older.
His moving inside came with a stroke of luck as Mikel Arteta, the Gunners' regular midfield anchor, is out injured. The bitter irony will not be lost on the 22-year-old.
Ramsey spoke to the official Arsenal website following his impressive double against Fenerbahce.
Confidence is such a big thing in this game and I feel like that's definitely been the biggest change.
Towards the back end of last season and into the new season I've felt so much more confident out there and I think that's the biggest change really.
I think with the injury I had, it takes a long time to overcome that mentally.
I'm over that now and I feel like I'm confident again.
Things are happening naturally on the pitch so I'm feeling good out there at the moment.
Things are most definitely happening for Ramsey. He has been outstanding this season for Arsenal and is on his way to becoming their most important player.
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