So it’s arrivederci Aaron Ramsey, then. And, predictably, there’s been a debate raging in some parts of Arsenal Twitter about the Welshman’s place in the pantheon of the club’s greats. Is he or isn’t he, the conversation goes, a “legend”?
Plenty can be said for both sides of this argument. Ramsey has scored vital goals on big occasions, won a Premier League Player of the Month award and was named Arsenal’s Player of the Season as recently as 2017-18. Then, of course, there was 2013-14, when he was unquestionably one of the best players in England during the first half of the season before suffering an injury in December that kept him out until April.
Then again, there have been large parts of his Arsenal career in which he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. There’s a feeling he was never the same after that injury in 2013-14, something that one could choose to illustrate with stats: the closest he came to the 16 goals he scored in all competitions that season was in 2017-18, when he notched 11. Just about a quarter of all his Arsenal goals (so far) were scored between August and December of 2013.
And, maybe, therein lies the problem. A five-month period when he was pretty much unstoppable may have skewed everyone’s perception of what Ramsey was – or, more importantly, what he could be. Going into that season, he’d been a promising young talent but not a huge amount more than that. Gifted, certainly, but still just a slightly older, stronger version of the spotty kid with the very mid-2000s emo-mullet who’d first arrived from Cardiff.
Expectations had been relatively high since he pitched up at the Emirates, but with that 2013-14 season Ramsey established a high-water mark for his career. Five years on, it looks as if that could well have been his peak as a footballer (on the club scene at least; his form for Wales is a different beast). In the interim, doubts about his game have proliferated, many of which he has tended to answer, Gerrard-style, with spectacular goals or occasional barnstorming performances.
Often, Ramsey has found himself shunted around the pitch: one day an attacking midfielder, the next a winger, the next an inside forward. Some will point to this inconsistency as a cause of his, well, inconsistency. But perhaps his failure to conclusively make a single position his own is more to do with Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery believing they have better, more specialised options in certain areas.
After all, Ramsey’s not an especially gifted creator. His passing isn’t exactly at a Pirlo level. His first touch, albeit handy enough, is nothing to write home about. He’s not particularly quick. It’s not as if he’s noticeably lacking in any of those areas, but his game is largely about energy, work-rate and driving late into the penalty area. Which is absolutely fine: at his best, Ramsey was one of the most effective box-to-boxers around.
The problem is that he seems to have left his best in 2013. Some will argue this is mostly down to Arsenal’s mediocrity as a team since then. If he’d played for, say, Man City, would he now be one of the best players in Europe? Maybe. Or maybe Ramsey is simply a very good player who had one excellent season, got injured (a few times) and couldn’t get back to the nosebleed-inducing level he briefly reached.
Still, given Arsenal’s overall paucity of brilliance during this decade, Ramsey is probably one of the club’s finest players of the 2010s. That may be damning with faint praise, but it serves as a powerful case for the Welshman in the unwinnable debate about whether or not Aaron Ramsey Is An Arsenal Legend.
As do his two FA Cup final-winning goals.
But being a “legend” at a club doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a top-class player. You don’t even have to be particularly good to end up as a club legend – just ask Newcastle fans about Shola Ameobi (or Arsenal fans about Perry Groves). There are plenty of good arguments to be made about Ramsey’s legendary status at Arsenal, but those arguments tend to fall short when they stray into discussion about the case for him being a truly elite footballer.
With Juventus, he may yet prove he deserves to be considered among the game’s best midfielders. If he does, it’ll be something he managed only briefly while in North London.