Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Ramsey is replaceable

Posted on 12 April 2019 by James Bayliss

It’s taken 11 years to see the best of Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal, and to the frustration of many fans, his rise in form is coming hand-in-hand with the running down of his contract. The media, the fans, and most probably some of the players are up-in-arms about the state of affairs in Arsenal’s transfer dealings which has led to Ramsey’s pre-agreed departure to Juventus. But fans should not fear, as there’s life beyond the Welshman, whose scattered form over the last decade or so shouldn’t overlook his fine end to a long and distinguished career in North London.

Ramsey can do no wrong at the moment, and perhaps this immunity to criticism is fair, justified and most certainly earned. Fans are quick to criticise players but ultimately, if a professional is showing commitment to the cause, then it certainly buys them patience with the crowd. Ramsey has earned this in abundance, with key goals against Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and most recently last night against Napoli. His bid to leave Arsenal in the best position possible had led to dynamic displays in midfield filled with heart and endeavour. Ramsey has been a true professional and will leave Arsenal with the respect and best wishes of the Gunners faithful.

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For all his exemplary professionalism, a trait which can certainly elevate a player’s performance levels immeasurably, there is still a gap in quality between Aaron Ramsey and players at rival clubs who are registering effortless midfield displays with a more classy and technical edge. Ramsey is a certain type of midfielder, but maybe not the man to build a reinvigorated, title-challenging Arsenal around.

Against Napoli, Ramsey scored the opening goal to ease early pressure on the Gunners, and his tireless work in midfield was lauded by the fans and media after the game. Along with all his good work, there were frustrating moments in the Welshman’s display which went forgiven and often unnoticed in the game, where perhaps in the past atmospheres at the Emirates would have been more unforgiving.

The fans’ biggest concern, having accepted Ramsey’s departure, begs one simple question: who will replace him? There seems to be a fear that there is no footballer out there who could come into the club and fulfil the Welshman’s role – at least not for an affordable price. This seems short-sighted and pessimistic. If there’s one thing we can learn from club football, it’s that people move on. Players and managers move on, and replacements are found. Alexis Sanchez left, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came in. Cesc Fabregas left, Santi Cazorla came in. Even the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor saw Robin van Persie rise to the occasion and lead the Gunners onto a new chapter. Ramsey’s departure will be nothing more than a continuation of this on-going, ever-lasting process. 

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The replacements out there exist. Ross Barkley, who could surely not be lured from Chelsea, is an example of another all-action midfielder who was snapped up by the Blues last year from Everton. Comparing Ramsey’s stats with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne would raise all sorts of validity issues, but measuring the numbers against Barkley’s, a player in a similar team in similar form, can tell us a lot more about the options out there to replace the ex-Cardiff player.

Stats (Premier League) Aaron Ramsey Ross Barkley
Pass success rate (whoscored) 81.6% 91.3%
Passes per match 26 36
Big chances created 2 3
Through balls 5 4
Accurate long balls 24 39
Goals 4 3
Assists 6 5
Cross accuracy 29% 14%
Shooting accuracy 43% 19%
Tackle success 53% 67%
Recoveries 86 81
Duels won 74 72
Duels lost 92 65
Tackles 31 15
Interceptions 9 8

The passing stats suggest that Ramsey could certainly improve his efficiency in midfield. Whilst his defensive numbers are marginally better than Barkley’s, his passing stats are way behind. He is proving to lose possession far more cheaply than his English counterpart, whilst contributing little more to the defensive phase of play.

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Ramsey is looking slightly stronger in his goals and assists stats for the season, but again, it’s marginal. Where the Welshman really excels is in his crossing and shooting accuracy, which is a very impressive number. It is worth remembering that Ramsey is in his peak years as a footballer, and that there’s little reason why Ross Barkley couldn’t reach, if not surpass, these levels in two or three years time, especially having seen his development in the last year after been written-off and overlooked for the World Cup squad. Young players like Mason Mount have shown that English football still breeds goalscoring midfielders, and perhaps Emile Smith Rowe, a Gunners graduate, could step into the side as a perfect replacement, having hit the back of the net a few times for Arsenal already.

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Despite Ramsey’s wonderful attitude, which is a real parting gift to Arsenal fans already, there’s still questions to be answered about how big a hole he’ll really leave to be filled. Many would question his efficiency in midfield, and whether, when push comes to shove, he has the natural talent and finesse to really run the midfield for Arsenal. Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira have done brilliantly over the year at the heart of Arsenal’s engine room, and with youngsters like Matteo Guendouzi continuing to blossom, Ramsey’s departure will not ache as much as many might fear.

Image: Flickr – Iana2021