Saturday 23 September 2017

Aaron Ramsey: Ending trophy famine can push us on to bigger things

Aaron Ramsey (L) and Mikel Arteta of Arsenal (R) celebrate victory after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Aaron Ramsey (L) and Mikel Arteta of Arsenal (R) celebrate victory after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Jeremy Wilson

The morning after the night before and, upon awaking at around 9.30 yesterday, Aaron Ramsey reached for his phone. "Woke up and it turns out it really did happen," he tweeted.

Rewind some 14 hours and, when he scored the goal that won Arsenal the FA Cup, time also appeared to stand still for a split-second. Ramsey then computed the magnitude of what he had done, turned and sprinted down the touchline before sliding onto his back with his arms and legs outstretched.

He was soon submerged beneath team-mates but, even after the other players had finished celebrating, it seemed significant that Ramsey should lie still for just a few more seconds as he stared up, smiling ear-to-ear, at the perfect blue sky above Wembley Stadium.

He did not disclose what went through his mind in those seconds of spontaneous ecstasy but it felt like the build-up of years' worth of emotion. Ramsey has lost in an FA Cup final before in 2008 for Cardiff City but his entire career was then threatened by the double leg fracture he suffered against Stoke City in February 2010.

Although he was back playing again within a year, it has only been this campaign, some four seasons later, that the real Aaron Ramsey has emerged.

SURGE

He was the driving force behind Arsenal's surge to the top of the Premier League at the start of the season and then, after missing more than three months with a thigh injury, has provided the impetus for them to secure both Champions League qualification and the FA Cup.

Ramsey was speaking from personal experience when he stressed the importance of self-belief but the wider hope for Arsenal is that this first trophy in nine years will transform how the entire club feels about itself. "Confidence is massive in football," said Ramsey.

"I've had problems with my confidence in the past but I've rediscovered that. I think this is massive for us players and for the manager.

"The last few seasons we've come in for a bit of criticism, not quite getting over the line. But now we've finally won something hopefully it will push us on and we'll win a lot more things."

After 18 goals from a central midfield position, including the most iconic in Arsenal's recent history, the season will surely now end with Ramsey being named as the club's Player of the Season.

It was only 18 months ago that a sizeable number of fans were questioning the wisdom of even giving him a new contract.

Amid inevitable interest this summer from Europe's elite clubs, the five-year deal that Ramsey signed in March looks like one of the best pieces of business in Arsenal's recent history.

With no World Cup to think about, Ramsey will now marry his fiancee, Colleen Rowlands, before attention turns to the start of pre-season training in July.

"I've got a lot to look forward to," says Ramsey.

"I'm getting married. I don't think I'd get a chance to watch the World Cup because the missus wouldn't let me watch it anyway. After that, I'm looking forward to next season and I hope we have a good season and we're in with a chance of winning things."

At 23, and within hours of his first taste of silverware with Arsenal, Ramsey's thoughts had turned to how he can still improve and how this team can maintain an authentic Premier League title push.

"I can work on a few things defensively, trying to get back in (team) shape, my handling of the ball," he said. "I'm just a bit gutted I did miss a big chunk in the middle of the season. We were top of the league for the most days this year so we have the quality.

"One thing we need to improve on is our away record against the top teams. We have to keep ourselves in those games."

Ramsey felt that Arsenal achieved this to some extent in achieving the best FA Cup final comeback since 1966 on Saturday.

"Because they scored so early in the game there was a long time to play," he said.

"It was a wonderful free kick to get us back in the game. I had a few rash shots but it was a great lay-off by Olivier Giroud. It was the most important goal I've scored in my career."

With Arsene Wenger poised to sign a new three-year deal, it was arguably also the most significant of his manager's 18-year reign. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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