People often cite Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur as good examples of how top clubs should operate. They tie key players down to long-term deals and, for the most part, only sell when it suits them.
On the other end of that scale sit Arsenal.
The Gunners have been forced to sell several players to Premier League rivals for bargain prices because they’ve been unable to agree long-term contract extensions.
It started with Robin Van Persie. The prolific Dutchman revealed he wouldn’t be extending his stay at the Emirates and Manchester United swooped to land him for just £22.5million. His goals helped them win the Premier League.
Fast forward to last summer and Arsenal pocketed £35million when they sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool. It was a fair fee for a player with less than 12 months remaining on his deal but, in the current market, it was possibly £20million under the going rate for a 24-year-old England international with Champions League experience.
And the former Southampton man has had quite the impact on Merseyside – he starred in the 4-3 win over Manchester City and is looking at ease in the Reds side.
Alexis Sánchez, with just six months remaining on his deal, then followed in van Persie’s footsteps and moved to Old Trafford. No money was paid but the Gunners did manage to bring in Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The latest player to join the ‘will he, won’t he’ club is Aaron Ramsey. According to the Daily Mirror, the Wales midfielder is yet to agree a new deal despite his current contract at the Emirates expiring in 2019.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are rumoured to be interested in the 27-year-old, and countless reports suggest £30million could be enough to tempt Arsenal into selling their No.8 this summer.
Does Ramsey’s form justify a big money move?
Premier League clubs aren’t interested in the Wales international just because he might be available for a bargain fee. It goes under the radar but he is one of the best midfielders in the English top flight.
Detractors of the former Cardiff City youngster believe the 2013/14 campaign was a one-off because he’s yet to replicate the form he showed during that season.
But just because he’s failed to finish a Premier League campaign with 18 goal involvements doesn’t mean he’s not had a meaningful impact since. In a recent feature on the Football Whispers website, it was revealed Ramsey has been one of the most creative centre-midfielders in the English top flight this term.
And to see just how effective he’s been, we’ve taken a detailed look at his stats since the start of the 2014/15 season.
In that time, largely because of injuries, he’s played minutes equating to 81 matches. The graphic above shows his average per 90 stats over this period. For those unfamiliar with xGChain it’s the xG (expected goals) of the possessions that a player is involved in, by making a pass or having a shot.
What immediately stands out is that Ramsey has averaged an xG+xA90 (expected goals plus expected goals assisted per 90) total of 0.55 over the past four seasons. He’s getting into high quality goalscoring positions on a regular basis and he’s creating chances for his team-mates.
These numbers suggest he’s expected to score a goal every three games and add an assist to his tally every four matches, and he manages these averages playing in an Arsenal side which has struggled.
For context, since Paul Pogba‘s arrival in the Premier League, the Frenchman has an xG+xA90 average of 0.45. Kevin de Bruyne, arguably the best midfielder in Europe this season, has an xG+xA90 average over the past three seasons of 0.61. But the Belgian is playing in a team littered with attacking talent and 0.43 of that average comes from xA90 (expected goals assisted per 90).
Frank Lampard, a man who knows what it takes to be a goalscoring midfielder, rates the Welsh midfielder. In his column for the Evening Standard the Chelsea legend believes he’s been undervalued at the Emirates.
“It will probably come as no surprise to people that I like Ramsey,” he wrote. “Like me, he makes late runs in the penalty area and he showed that with aplomb for the second goal at AC Milan last week.
“One wonders if he’s ever felt he’s the main man at Arsenal and that’s maybe why he might consider looking elsewhere. I feel some sympathy for him because his position has changed over the years at the club.
“Sometimes, because they’ve had so many attacking midfielders, he’s been dropped further back. On the other hand, I accept there maybe doubts over whether he performs consistently enough.”
Doubts over Ramsey’s consistency are misplaced, however.
The graphic above includes midfielders with over five goals in the Premier League this term, only David Silva gets into dangerous areas on a more regular basis.
Liverpool, Chelsea and United all fail to have a player from their midfield feature on the list so the interest in Ramsey makes a lot of sense. As basic as it sounds, the more goals in the team the greater the chance of winning.
The Spanish magician netted the winner against West Ham United, grabbed a goal in the Manchester derby and netted both in the 2-0 win over Stoke City. De Bruyne, meanwhile, fizzed a shot past Thibaut Courtois to give Pep Guardiola’s men all three points at Stamford Bridge.
Ramsey is a reliable goal threat and a player of his ability is worth £70million in the current climate. Sergej Milinković-Savić, who is linked with every top club in Europe despite Lazio demanding over €100million, has nine goals to his name this term in Serie A but his xG90 comes in at just the 0.16.
So Ramsey deserves respect for what he’s been doing for a number of years. At 27 years old he’s only just entering his peak meaning he could well improve and the numbers he’s posting could swell.
Those chasing a top four finish are right to target the Arsenal midfielder. He could be one of the signings of the summer and yet another costly mistake by those in charge at the Emirates.