Monday 21 January 2019

Juventus-bound Ramsey sums up an Arsenal era when good never quite became great

Aaron Ramsey looks set to end his 10-year stay with Arsenal by moving to Juventus this summer. Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images
Aaron Ramsey looks set to end his 10-year stay with Arsenal by moving to Juventus this summer. Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images

Charlie Eccleshare

Injuries, FA Cup glory, and then a badly-managed departure.

If you were looking for an encapsulation of the post-2008 Arsenal era then Aaron Ramsey's 11-year spell neatly provides it.

As with Arsenal in the same period, there were memorable highs. The two FA Cup final winners, the glorious first half of the 2013-'14 season, the spectacular goals - Galatasaray, Norwich, Fulham etc.

But following reports that Ramsey will move to Juventus for free in the summer, it's hard not to wonder what might have been. Still only 28, Ramsey's best years may be ahead of him, but his Arsenal career - largely through no fault of his own - will be tinged with regret. The way Arsenal have appallingly handled his exit is a fitting way to end an 11-year spell littered with ill-fortune.

The rotten luck began of course in February 2010, midway through Ramsey's second season. Few will need reminding of the events at the Britannia Stadium, but it's easy to forget how well Ramsey was playing going into the now infamous match at Stoke.

Dominated

Having only just turned 19, Ramsey had dominated - and scored in - an FA Cup tie at Upton Park a month earlier to such an extent that even the constant neurosis about Cesc Fabregas leaving was temporarily eased.

Then Ryan Shawcross inflicted a horrific leg break that meant Ramsey didn't play again for nine months, and when he did it was on loan at Nottingham Forest. In reality, it would not be until 2013 that Ramsey looked completely recovered from the injury and the accompanying trauma.

It was at this point that Ramsey enjoyed the finest football of his career. Playing as a roaming attacking midfielder, feeding off scraps generously provided to him by Olivier Giroud, Ramsey scored 13 goals before December in the 2013-'14 season. After win at West Ham on St Stephen's Day - coincidentally Ramsey's 23rd birthday - Arsenal were top, and looked set to end their 10-year Premier League title drought. But Ramsey limped off with a thigh injury, and by the time he returned in April Arsenal's title challenge had evaporated after a clutch of high-profile thrashings.

Ramsey achieved redemption of sorts with an FA Cup final winner against Hull City a month later, but he would never come close to that prolific autumn of 2013. There was also about to be a slight shift in Arsenal's transfer policy that would move him further and further from centre stage.

Having initially prospered after Mesut Ozil joined in September 2013, Ramsey subsequently found himself moved wide to accommodate the German. The arrival of Alexis Sanchez in the summer of 2014 further marginalised Ramsey, who ended the 2014-'15 season playing as an ersatz right-winger.

Culturally, Sanchez and Ozil's arrival also heralded an important shift - Arsenal were no longer a group of ego-free underdogs; they were now a team with an obvious hierarchy, at the top of which was the two expensive superstars.

Frustration started to grow at the way Sanchez and Ozil were indulged. Team-mates believed that no matter how badly they played, the pair were undroppable. This was reportedly part of the reason Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left the club two years ago, while Ramsey was one of the few players to consistently stand up to Sanchez's acts of petulance.

And as with Oxlade-Chamberlain, the ongoing pandering to the needs of Ozil and Sanchez, which has defined Arsenal's last few years, has had a major bearing on Ramsey's departure.

Desperation

In their desperation to keep hold of one of their prized assets, Arsenal shattered their wage structure and handed Ozil a £350,000-a-week contract last January. As a consequence, Arsenal eventually decided they could not afford to keep Ramsey and have instead allowed him to leave for free.

What then will be Ramsey's legacy? The bare figures will read three FA Cups (and possibly more silverware this season), more than 350 appearance and 60-odd goals.

Symbolically, he will represent a period of Arsenal's history when good didn't quite become great.

Telegraph.co.uk

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