Arsenal’s season arguably stands or falls upon their next game. Even if the Gunners see off Everton to make the top four, it won’t quench the supporters’ growing thirst for silverware. In fact, having been a fixture in the title race for much of the season, Champions League qualification will feel like something of an underwhelming denouement.
The FA Cup semi-final with Wigan is another matter entirely. Win there, and Arsenal are just one game away from lifting a trophy. Lose, and the pressure on Arsene Wenger may become too great. Remarkably, we are in a situation where Arsenal’s legendary manager is effectively facing a play-off for his future.
Fortunately, Wenger has Aaron Ramsey on his side. After an absence of more than three months, the Welshman is finally fit to return to the starting XI. Simply put: He has to play.
Ramsey made his return to competitive action during the 3-0 defeat at Everton. Although Arsenal were largely poor, Ramsey’s introduction sparked a little life into proceedings.
Although there were indications of rust in his game, he immediately introduced positivity to Arsenal’s midfield play. Sideways passes were replaced by driving runs. Ambition displaced conservatism. Arsenal played with more bravery, more flair and more personality—three of Ramsey’s key attributes.
The Gunners have missed him enormously. Arsenal are often criticised for a lack of leaders. While Ramsey is not a typical figurehead, unlikely to be seen cajoling team-mates or organising at a set piece, he does lead by example. Every single time he steps on the pitch, he gives absolute commitment. His work rate has always been extraordinary. Now, having allied that stupendous stamina with improving technique, he is becoming the complete midfielder.
Ramsey loves being out on the field. An enforced lay-off will have been hugely frustrating for a player in the form of his life. Had he stayed fit, he might well have emerged as a rival to Luis Suarez for the Footballer of the Year award.
However, he’ll know that he still has time to make his mark on this season. If Ramsey can help Arsenal navigate two Wembley ties, he’ll be part of the team that ended a nine-year wait for silverware. Only a fool would bet against him scoring the crucial goals to end Arsenal’s trophy hunt. A sense of destiny surrounds Ramsey’s return.
When Ramsey came on at Goodison Park, he was joined by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England international looked lively, and struck the ball with a well-struck effort from range. Wenger might be wise to consider Oxlade-Chamberlain for a starting place at Wembley too. Unlike most of his team-mates, he has already played and scored in the legendary stadium.
What’s certain is that Ramsey will begin the game. If he can recapture the form he displayed between August and December, Arsenal should be far too strong for Wigan.