Ramsey: I think Arsenal will be the Class of 2013
By The Daily Telegraph | Published: 23rd November 2013 11:18 AM |
With the Class of '92 film premiering this month in Leicester Square, just a few stops from Arsenal down the Piccadilly Line, it was timely that Arsene Wenger should make such a bold prediction for his own young team. "I would say this group can be as successful as Manchester United's were," said Wenger. "We have still to show that but we have an opportunity. No one can stop you if you have quality and attitude."
If so, while Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott might follow David Beckham and Ryan Giggs as the poster boys of a revolution, Aaron Ramsey is the player who has perhaps most in common with Paul Scholes. Shy, steely and generally reluctant to step into the limelight, as he gave his first in-depth newspaper interview of the season, you still suspect that he is the player most appreciated by his manager and fellow professionals.
His tally this season of 11 goals already equals his return in five previous years at Arsenal and, if the votes were being cast tomorrow for the PFA Player of the Year, he would be the overwhelming favourite to win. Ramsey cites Steven Gerrard and Zinedine Zidane as his football idols but, spend half an hour listening to him, and it is clear that he is driven not by individual accolades but what can be achieved collectively.
After the departures of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Alex Song and Samir Nasri in the space of 18 months, Arsenal made a conscious decision to rebuild around a British core of young players. Six of them signed long-term contracts within a few weeks last winter. It has left Ramsey convinced that he, Wilshere, Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and Wojciech Szczesny - who has also been with Arsenal since the age of 16 - will show the same loyalty that underpinned the United success story of the Nineties.
"I think that everyone's intention once they signed their contracts is to see them through, to be with this team and to win things with this team," says Ramsey. "We are excited about what can happen not just this year but over the long term. When you play with certain players for an amount of time, you understand their game so much better, things happen more naturally on the pitch. I think that has happened this season. I think that is only going to make us stronger for the future, having the opportunity to stay together and help Arsenal achieve something special this season and in the following seasons."
In the context of Arsenal's recent history, when key players have left while still in their prime, this long-term statement of commitment is significant. Perhaps the horrific broken leg he suffered against Stoke City in 2010 has given him extra perspective but Ramsey seems to accept that loyalty should work both ways.
"It was a big statement from the club to offer us contracts," he says. "It was something that we were all pleased to be part of. The manager had come under criticism but always still believed in his team and what we were doing. He realised the quality that we have, hopefully now we can repay him with a successful season, with trophies obviously."
The dressing room's desire for Wenger himself to continue beyond the end of a contract that expires next summer is not in doubt. "I think he still has the desire and passion to manage," says Ramsey. "He has shown that again this season. Hopefully he will continue and stick with this team."
Ramsey's respect for how Wenger has been answering his critics is unsurprising given his own journey over the past three years. Although he was back playing nine months after his double leg fracture, his old form only really returned during the second half of last season.
Ramsey has taken a further leap forward during this campaign and is rapidly establishing himself among Europe's best midfielders. Fabregas, now at Barcelona, describes Ramsey's recent performances as "spectacular". It seems almost unthinkable, then, that he became a focus last year for the outpourings of frustration from some angry Arsenal fans. Few have consumed more humble pie than Piers Morgan, who described Ramsey as an "utter liability" and railed against the award of his five-year contract.
Ramsey says he does not pay too much attention to what people are saying about him on Twitter. What he hopes, however, is that his example will encourage fans to be patient with other players who suffer serious injury. "People are quick to jump on players who are not doing particularly well," he says. "I think I proved a lot of people wrong, hopefully made them look a bit silly because they knew what I was capable of before my leg break and then were quick to criticise. If something like that does happen to another player they will realise the implications of the injury. Even though things maybe weren't happening as I would have liked, I wouldn't shy away [on the pitch]. I tried things and would still do what I thought was right. The main thing is the manager and me believing in my ability. I'm doing now what I knew I could do and what the manager knew I could do." So how does Ramsey explain his transformation as a player over the past year? "I always believed I would come through in the end but it was all about getting my confidence back, getting what happened [against Stoke] out of my head," he says. "To overcome that takes a bit of time mentally. I think I overcame that last year and things started to happen naturally."
Things also appear to be happening more naturally again for Arsenal. Defeat in their most recent match against Manchester United does not seem to have significantly dented their confidence and they remain top of the Premier League. Ramsey thinks that there is a genuine difference this season. "I think we definitely have become a lot mature defensively," he says. "I think the way we defend as a team and win the ball back quickly when we lose it is the biggest change."
Ramsey believes that the next two months will be pivotal, starting with today's home fixture against Southampton, and he is predicting the most competitive conclusion yet to a Premier League season. "We have got off to a flying start, something we have been lacking in the last few years," he says. "If we can keep that going over the next few months, we will have a fantastic opportunity. We know our form after Christmas has been second to none in the last two years. I think there are five or six teams who are going to be in the mix right until the last few weeks of the season and hopefully we will come out on top."
Lifting that first trophy together is likely to be the hardest step for this Arsenal team but, as the Class of '92 so emphatically showed, you can win plenty with the right kids.