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Injured Aaron Ramsey Faces Fight to Get into Team, Which Augurs Well for Arsenal

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2016

Aaron Ramsey is still waiting to return from injury.
Aaron Ramsey is still waiting to return from injury.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

This looked set to be a huge season for Aaron Ramsey. After his stunning performances at Euro 2016, Arsenal fans waited eagerly to see how he would fare at club level. However, the Welshman has now not been seen since injuring his hamstring against Liverpool on the opening day.

At his latest pre-match briefing, Arsene Wenger confirmed that the marauding midfielder is still not fit to return. Having seemed set to rely on Ramsey, the Gunners are now taking their time with his comeback—perhaps partially because there is no longer an obvious role for him to assume in the team.

Arsenal’s decision to make Ramsey wait is probably a wise one. Presumably his lack of preparation played a part in his muscular injury, so Wenger has told the Arsenal website that the club now intend to give him a “complete pre-season” before bringing him back into the fold:

I must say I’m disappointed because he has worked very hard. He’s at the last stage of building up his fitness and he’s not far away.

Next week will come too early.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle. He had a little setback, so we rested him. The longer that lasts, the more time you have to dedicate to build up his fitness again because he has been out for four weeks. Then you have to basically create a new three-week preparation to get him up to the level he was at before the injury. It’s more the time it takes to rebuild his fitness. We have decided that we’ll give him a complete pre-season, even if he misses one or two more games.

Reading between the lines, the implication is that Ramsey could have been rushed back if it was deemed entirely necessary. However, the unfortunate truth for the Welshman is that Arsenal are coping just fine without him.

Aaron Ramsey started the first Premier League match against Liverpool.
Aaron Ramsey started the first Premier League match against Liverpool.AFP/Getty Images

In Arsenal’s first Premier League match against Liverpool, Ramsey started as a No. 10, with Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin stationed in behind him. With Mesut Ozil in the squad, that was always likely to be a temporary deployment. The longer-term plan seemingly revolved around restoring Ramsey to the box-to-box midfield role he’d thrived in at international level.

That went out of the window the minute Ramsey’s hamstring went pop. Since then, Wenger has leaned on the previously established partnership of Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. When the Frenchman succumbed to injury, Granit Xhaka ably stepped in.

Arsenal’s subsequent performances have been good. They lost that opening-day fixture to Liverpool, though that had more to do with defensive disarray than Ramsey’s injury. However, they are unbeaten since then and have achieved creditable results against Leicester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea along the way. After the initial wobble, the Gunners have asserted their credentials as potential title challengers.

In short, Wenger’s men are on a roll. Key to that recent run has been the sense of equilibrium they have found in the side.

At present, the team play with a finely tuned balance between defence and attack. The midfield area is vital to that—while Ozil is free to focus on attacking duties, the two players slotted behind him have an impressive dedication to their defensive responsibilities.

Santi Cazorla has effectively taken Aaron Ramsey's place in the Arsenal side.
Santi Cazorla has effectively taken Aaron Ramsey's place in the Arsenal side.LINDSEY PARNABY/Getty Images

That includes Cazorla, whose transformation into a deep-lying midfielder continues to amaze. Having arrived at the club as an attacking playmaker, he has slowly transitioned into a more conservative role.

Although he is approaching 32, he shows no sign of slowing—and his presence in the side is what makes it difficult to envisage Ramsey getting a look-in.

The Spaniard has become integral to Arsenal’s passing game. It’s he who offers the first out ball for the defence and who is quickest to fizz the ball into the feet of Ozil or even Alexis Sanchez. He sets the tempo and dictates the play. For all Ramsey’s talent, he cannot yet match Cazorla’s ability to make Arsenal tick. 

When Ramsey’s rehabilitation is eventually complete, he may find himself back competing for a place on the flanks—and even that could prove difficult given the outstanding form of both Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott.

Alternatively, he may have to accept starting from the bench. An injury or downturn in form may be required to create an opportunity for the Welshman to come into the team.

Olivier Giroud is no longer first choice at Arsenal.
Olivier Giroud is no longer first choice at Arsenal.BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

Olivier Giroud could well find himself in a similar position. Like Ramsey, the Frenchman has experienced a delay in his recuperation and is not available for the forthcoming match with Swansea.

Wenger explained to the Arsenal website: "Giroud will be a little bit the same [as Ramsey] because he has been out now, he has still not been on the pitches. I think he starts to have a jog again today for the first time so he has been interrupted a lot in his preparation. We have to build his fitness up again."

Giroud’s another player who might have been hurried back into action in the past. However, with Alexis now flourishing as the team’s attacking focal point, Arsenal are not quite so desperate to get the big man back. With Lucas Perez also in reserve, they can afford to give Giroud the time he needs to recuperate. 

Aaron Ramsey should return fitter than he was in August.
Aaron Ramsey should return fitter than he was in August.Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images

Wenger presumably hopes that these prolonged lay-offs for Giroud and Ramsey will pay dividends as the season wears on. Although they may not be automatic starters upon their returns, they remain hugely important players. In the course of a long season, they’ll certainly be needed—and missing a few more weeks at this stage might enable them to stay the course between now and May.

Both Giroud and Ramsey are in the uncomfortable position of knowing that even once fit, their wait for a starting place is likely to go on. For Arsenal, however, that is a good thing. Being able to take their time managing the comebacks of two such big names is a luxurious position and one afforded by improving squad depth and results. 

Ramsey would have hoped to use this season to showcase a broad variety of his skills. However, the attribute he may require most in this first few months of the season is patience.

   

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout 2016/17. Follow him on Twitter here.