The careers of footballers are guided by moments. Good or bad, they can make or break reputations. Aaron Ramsey is no different. Yet, it feels we are still waiting on the Arsenal midfielder to deliver.
After playing over 300 games for the Gunners, it feels strange to say, but as every season goes by, with a positive performance brings the plaudits, but then with inconsistency the critics reappear.
With 51 goals and 49 assists, he’s involved in a goal nearly every three games: not a terrible return, but with the Welsh midfielder turning 27 on Boxing Day, you can’t help but think more was expected when he arrived from Cardiff City in 2008.
On Sunday, as Arsenal faced Tottenham Hotspur in a North London derby, they were expected to lose, but the whole team stepped up, showing a level of performance we have rarely seen from Arsène Wenger’s side.
Ramsey was phenomenal, the midfielder seemed to be everywhere, doing the important leg work too often missing at the Emirates.
Always seen as a catalyst for the attack, Ramsey’s reputation as a box-to-box player – one who gets into the penalty area, links the attack and provides a threat in the opposition third – wasn’t the factor that made the difference.
Playing in Arsenal’s 3-4-2-1, you have three world-class attackers – they are paid to create and make the goals. Add two rampaging and dangerous full-backs and you have five players to make a difference going forward.
Add Ramsey into the mix and, although you look strong, you are leaving Granit Xhaka to hold the fort. The walking yellow card isn’t always the best man for the job.
Against Spurs, the job done by Ramsey was very different. This season he is averaging 2.1 tackles, 1.1 interceptions and 0.1 clearances, then he adds 2.4 shots, 1.1 key passes and 1.2 dribbles going forward.
His numbers on Saturday were very different. The Welshman won five tackles, made two interceptions and one clearance. Seeing 54 touches of the ball, he made just one key pass, completed no dribbles and didn’t attempt a single shot on goal.
Against Everton, in the 5-2 win, Ramsey both scored and made an assist, and his average position for that game saw him parked inside the opposition half. Contrast that to the North London derby and through the 90 minutes he actually held his role even deeper than that of his Swiss team-mate.
Pushing forward and joining the attack leaves the Gunners vulnerable, but with Ramsey changing tact and building a partnership with Xhaka, they looked a much stronger, more powerful unit.
Chelsea have N’Golo Kante, Tiémoué Bakayoko or Danny Drinkwater; Spurs now have Harry Winks, Mousa Dembélé and, when fit, the option of Victor Wanyama. These midfield tandems help their sides build success, and now there is a possibility that Arsenal have their own.
Going to Burnley on Sunday, Arsenal have the chance to prove a lot of people wrong. The surprise over the way they played against Spurs was warranted: they battled, chased and fought for every tackle, every loose ball – traits you wouldn’t normally associate with them.
If they turn up in Turf Moor and that attitude disappears, more questions will be asked. Yet, if they go to Lancashire and put in the same level of fight and beat Sean Dyche’s well-organised side, this could usher in a new dawn for Arsenal.
Ramsey is at the heart of that, and from the graphic below, you can see what is needed. Early in the game he set the tone.
Christian Eriksen, coming off the back of a hat-trick for Denmark, has found a pocket of space. Ramsey quickly spots the danger once the pass is on.
The Welshman reacts, powers back into defence and knocks the ball away from the Danish playmaker, stopping the attack dead in its tracks.
Putting in that sort of effort becomes infectious and spreads quickly. Once one or two players make it a regular thing, it sets the minimum requirement for everyone else.
Then you see Mesut Özil and others playing the full 90 minutes with the same intensity.
Ramsey’s time of becoming an attacking talisman at Arsenal has probably gone. Now he has another chance, and it will very likely be his last at making his mark and finally becoming the talented player everyone had hoped he would mature into.
His coming out party was beating Spurs 2-0, now he must follow it up with the difficult second album and show he can be a difference maker for the rest of the season.
It’s no longer about what Ramsey adds in the final third, but what he can do to stop the opposition picking apart Arsenal’s defence.