This wasn’t supposed to be Arsenal’s season, but Aaron Ramsey has made it happen. The box-to-box midfielder has almost single-handedly provided the Gunners’ highlight reel for the first half of the season, propelling his squad to the top of the Premier League.
After a disappointing 2012-13 season following the exit of Robin van Persie, Arsenal did not look poised for success this year following a summer of failed acquisitions and bungled negotiations with Luis Suarez.
Six months later, Arsenal hold the top position in the League, leading Manchester City by one point just past the halfway point in the 2013-14 season. While so much was made of Arsenal’s inability to attract big players during the summer transfer period (with the exception of Mesut Ozil), it has been Ramsey, a member of the roster since 2008, who has made the biggest impact.
Here is the case for Ramsey’s MVP status.
Top Goal-Scoring Role
Ramsey has simply been the best player for Arsenal on paper. With 13 goals so far this season, the midfielder has been the top goalscorer for the Gunners, beating out the entire front line (striker Olivier Giroud has 12 goals so far).
Ramsey’s five-month run started with a win over Fenerbahce at home on Aug. 27, in which the midfielder scored the team’s only two goals. Ramsey produced another brace against Sunderland in September and scored a goal or more in six of 11 Premier League games between September and November.
Ramsey was named Arsenal Player of the Month for four consecutive months this fall and took home the Barclays Player of the Month award in September. Having notched 13 goals so far this season, Ramsey has surpassed his career goal tally (11) at Arsenal. And it’s only January.
Ramsey’s success can largely be attributed to his ability to create opportunities for himself. The midfielder has been an incredibly persistent shooter, taking 22 shots on goal (the most on the Arsenal squad), as well as a high-percentage shooter, making 26 percent of his shots.
To top it off, Ramsey has produced a flurry of goals that would force even the most casual observer to jump off the coach. No moment this season was more awe-inducing from Ramsey than his 25-yard goal against Liverpool in November.
In addition to posting impressive numbers on the scoreboard, Ramsey has been the picture of a team player, producing seven assists in 27 appearances for Arsenal this year.
It’s a small stat, but assists are a good indication of a player’s field positioning even when he is not in a goal-scoring position. This has been a key factor in Ramsey’s success. Ball placement and movement are two things that have helped elevate Ramsey’s ability to score and both have similarly helped him in the assists column.
Box-to-Box Offensive/Defensive Strength
As a midfielder, Ramsey has the burden of covering the entire field and playing defense, unlike, say, Giroud at striker. And Ramsey’s scoring success has not in any way compromised his position in the back of the field.
In 18 Premier League games, Ramsey has been responsible for 66 tackles and 19 interceptions. Additionally, Ramsey is a passing machine, completing 434 passes successfully in the first three months of the season. That tally ranked 169 passes ahead of Ramsey’s next closest teammate.
Like assists, completed passes are not the flashiest statistic to showcase a player’s success, but they are a good indicator of Ramsey’s ability as a playmaker. For a midfielder responsible for moving the ball forward on the offensive attack and clearing the ball in a defensive position, completed passes are an important aspect of a player’s game.
A Standout Player on a Strong Squad
Arsenal has undoubtedly made a strong turnaround from last season’s performance, and while Ramsey has been instrumental in that success, he’s not alone.
The arrival of Ozil over the summer significantly bolstered the Gunners’ midfield and striker Giroud has established himself as one of Arsenal’s top scorers since he arrived in London last season. But Ramsey has set himself apart.
With 13 goals and seven assists, Ramsey is the dominant offensive player on the team, not to mention his contribution to the defense. On a squad that is not short on talent, Ramsey has combined offensive aggressiveness, defensive consistency, precision and solid fundamentals to clearly position himself as the Gunners’ standout player so far this season.
Momentum, Momentum, Momentum
As important (and impressive) as the numbers are, the confidence that comes with a tremendous scoring season is a key X-factor for both Ramsey and the Arsenal squad as a whole.
If anyone is feeling it, it’s Ramsey. "I’m just confident at the moment," he said during his outstanding run during the fall. "Confidence is such a massive thing and I feel composed in front of the goal at the moment and I’m taking my chances."
Besides helping himself, Ramsey’s performance has helped the team, both on the stats sheet and in elevating the spirits of a squad that didn’t have a lot going for it before the start of this season.
What Happens Next
Luckily for the Gunners, their roster has been deep enough to compensate for Ramsey’s absence, winning their four matches since West Ham surrendering only one goal.
December marked a slower month in Ramsey’s ascent, in which he provided two assists but no goals in six games. Still, Ramsey’s contribution during the first half of the season cannot be ignored and Arsenal has the luxury of boasting a talented enough squad that it does not always have to fall back on the midfielder.
Assuming the injury has not derailed Ramsey’s momentum, there’s no reason to believe that he and the Gunners cannot continue to occupy the top spot in the League. Arsenal's confidence right now cannot be underestimated.