The PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year nominees were announced over the Easter weekend, and while Aaron Ramsey is deservedly among the six nominated for the latter award, he can feel slightly disappointed not to have been nominated for the overall award too.
The Welshman’s season has been heavily interrupted by injury, of course - he missed the first three months of the New Year - but that shouldn’t hide his astonishing start to the campaign.
Ramsey was voted Arsenal’s Player of the Month in August, September, October and November - and having won the award last May, this meant he’d triumphed for five consecutive months.
"Ramsey seemed set to become a reliable, consistent passing midfielder - receiving possession and distributing it methodically into attack for others to provide the finishing touch"
His overall record in the league is also noteworthy: nine goals and eight assists in 18 starts is an impressive record for any player, but it’s simply astonishing considering Ramsey has generally started in a deep central midfield role.
Ramsey had managed only seven Premier League goals before this season, spread over the course of more than 100 appearances, and his development into a genuine all-round midfield powerhouse has been as surprising as it’s been impressive.
Previously Ramsey seemed set to become a reliable, consistent passing midfielder - receiving possession and distributing it methodically into attack for others to provide the finishing touch.
He wasn’t seen as a genuine threat in the final third, nor was he famed for his scrapping in defensive positions. While his goalscoring has been obvious, his tackling statistics have also been impressive. In the 2-0 win over Liverpool, for example, he made a game-high six tackles in addition to scoring a cracking long-range drive (see Fig 1).
The progression in both areas of his game this season suggests Ramsey’s improvement has its roots in physical and mental factors.
At times last season, Ramsey appeared exhausted towards the end of matches, but throughout this campaign he’s often seemed Arsenal’s most energetic player, showing impressive stamina to get up and down the pitch in the mould of an old-school box-to-box midfielder.
Physiologically, he simply seems more confident in front of goal, and more committed when going in for tackles - he’s become a true leader. “He has a great engine, a great spirit and has an obsession, he always wants to be better,” said Arsene Wenger earlier this season.
Arguably Ramsey’s best performance this season was in the 3-0 victory over his former club Cardiff, where he relentlessly drove forward from midfield, scoring two fine goals and earning a fine ovation from the home supporters, as well as the travelling Arsenal fans.
It was evidence that Ramsey was capable of winning matches solo, something even the world’s best midfielders can struggle with. He scored two goals, and created two chances (see Fig 2).
"Ramsey is capable of winning matches solo, something even the world’s best midfielders can struggle with"
Incidentally, Ramsey’s Cardiff connection means he’s the only member of the Arsenal squad to have previously played in an FA Cup final. His final game for Cardiff was the FA Cup final of 2008, where he came on as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat against Portsmouth, with former Gunner Nwankwo Kanu scoring the only goal. He’ll be particularly keen to make up for that disappointment next month against Hull City.
And what better preparation than by turning in a man-of-the-match performance against those very opponents last weekend? Arsenal’s trip to the KC Stadium was set to be a difficult, nervous contest against a team boasting a solid backline, but Ramsey was again superb.
He opened the scoring by rounding off a brilliant team move, converting a fine Santi Cazorla through-ball, then later teed up Lukas Podoski to record yet another assist.
Hull have been warned about Ramsey’s threat - although that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop him second time around. Ramsey might not have been on the six-man Player of the Year shortlist, but an FA Cup winner’s medal would more than compensate.
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