Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey looks increasingly likely to leave the Emirates in January after 10 years at the club. But as Ryan Hunn writes, it could be a rare case where it makes sense for all parties.
After a summer of monumental upheaval, the changes at Arsenal continue to come. Arsène Wenger’s summer departure was followed recently by the news of chief executive Ivan Gazidis heading to AC Milan and that the club’s longest serving player, Aaron Ramsey, will not be be renewing his contract. Gazidis’ departure may be key as to the timing of why an offer reportedly tabled and agreed during his tenure was withdrawn by Arsenal, just 48 hours prior to their recent home game with Watford.
For a player that so frequently divides opinion among Arsenal fans, the news was greeted with a strange, calm acceptance. At that Watford game, as the line-ups were read, Ramsey’s name was met with a usual cheer. No boos to direct anger towards Ramsey, no loud cheers of support. Any disappointment that was felt most certainly was not obvious within the stadium, it was just business as usual.
The reason for this could be that Ramsey’s departure could prove beneficial for both club and player. The Welshman has made no secret of his desire to play abroad and the lack of a transfer fee makes that easier to realise. Arsenal, on the other hand, need to trim a wage bill that has exceeded £200m for the first time and are still going through a substantial structural change.
There’s also no secret that the conundrum of where Ramsey fits in this new era is yet to be solved. Emery has struggled to get the best out of Ramsey, preferring the midfielder further forward as opposed to part of a deeper midfield pair. On the opening day of the season, against Manchester City, Ramsey was Arsenal’s most forward player, leading the press when City defenders had the ball as an almost false 9. To accommodate Ramsey this way, Özil has been moved wide, and neither have looked comfortable in this system.
It will be interesting to see whether Ramsey plays a major role within this team until he departs, and what that role might be. Against Watford, Ramsey was replaced with Alex Iwobi and Arsenal’s improvement was noticeable. Iwobi slotted into his natural position on the left flank, with Özil moving into his preferred central role and it instantly gave Arsenal more balance. After an initial spell of Watford pressure, Arsenal played their best football of the game, scoring two goals in quick succession to secure three points on a day where Watford were arguably the better side.
This issue of balance has punctuated Emery’s early days at Arsenal and even with Ramsey’s undoubted quality, it’s hard to see how he and Özil can both be accommodated in a three behind the striker. A run of seven consecutive wins has glossed over these issues, but it also goes some way to understand Arsenal’s reluctance to make Ramsey one of the club’s top earners. Ramsey has completed 90 minutes just twice so far under Emery and was left on the bench away to Chelsea, with Iwobi being preferred on the left and Özil centrally.
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Ramsey’s situation draw parallels with another recent Arsenal departure, Theo Walcott. Despite being 27, the club’s longest serving player and a decade of service, he is still talked about in terms of potential. As also with Walcott, durability is also a worry. Since suffering a horrific injury at Stoke in 2010, Ramsey has managed 40 games or more in just three seasons. Undoubtedly his best season came in 2013/14, when he registered 16 goals and 10 assists in 34 games, including a winner in the FA Cup final that landed Arsenal’s first trophy in nine years. Since then he has struggled to regain such form, reaching double figures in goals and assists just once.
This past summer, Arsenal added Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi to the squad, two dynamic midfielders with complimentary skill sets. At 22 and 19 respectively and with Emile Smith Rowe emerging, they have addressed the ageing profile of the squad. Torreira and Guendouzi have been preferred partnering Xhaka in the deeper midfield role, Smith Rowe is very highly rated as a future number ten and scored his first senior goal against Qarabag. Unfortunately, by playing higher up the pitch, Ramsey struggles to get into the game as much, preferring to pick the ball up deeper and be involved earlier in moves. However, Emery clearly does not see him playing in a deeper role.
And so, although Arsenal will hope to sell in January, Ramsey’s departure may be best for all involved. It’s a rare situation where the departure of a quality player improves the collective quality of a team and he will undoubtedly be a success elsewhere. Ultimately, everyone gets what they want and no-one is to blame, an odd thing in football.