Few players divide the fanbase more than Aaron Ramsey.
The Welshman scored his 50th Arsenal goal in the 2-1 win over Swansea and has scored winning goals in two FA Cup finals yet still has some fans calling him the weak link in the team.
Whatever his personal achievements, the belief that he’s a tactical problem for Arsene Wenger and a detriment to the team is still rife.
The issue stems from Ramsey’s role on the pitch.
Despite the central midfielder moniker, he very much plays like an attacking midfielder.
He’s someone who pushes forward in every game to effect things in the final third and get into goalscoring positions in the penalty area. This tendency can get so extreme that he can, at times, look like a second forward in Arsenal’s system. Him popping up to score important winning goals is the result of that.
On the other hand, when Ramsey is forward, there’s only one midfielder left back. That hole in midfield has been the source of many of Arsenal’s woes over the years, as it’s left the team vulnerable to counter attacks and disjointed whenever they have possession.
Fans have cottoned on to this blatant tactical issue in the team, but are, I feel, pointing the blame at the wrong person.
Ramsey receives a huge amount of criticism for his lack of discipline but is, in reality, acting on instructions from the manager.
You only have to watch Arsenal when Ramsey isn’t playing to see this.
Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin and even Granit Xhaka have played the “Ramsey role”, and each of them have pushed forward with regularity.
You can go back a few years and see the same happening when Mikel Arteta and Alex Song played together.
Arsene Wenger wants this to happen in order to pen back the opposition and give more space and time to the centre backs and deepest midfielder to play the ball.
In effect, it’s left Arsenal playing with just one central midfielder for several years now.
That Ramsey gets so much of the blame is a consequence of him playing the role more than anyone else, especially in the games that Arsenal lose heavily. Yet, those defeats were not caused by Aaron Ramsey.
He’s just the soldier carrying out orders.
The few times Wenger has asked his midfielders to sit deep and protect the back four, they’ve done so to good effect. Examples of this include the 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge, and the FA Cup semi-final and final last season.
Ramsey played in all three of those games.
Wenger, too, gets a lot of criticism for his lack of attention to detail. However, if Ramsey were as much a rogue element as fans make out, he wouldn’t be starting every game when he’s available.
Few managers would persist with players who fail to adhere to instructions.
There are, potentially, two players in Arsenal’s squad who get away with minimal instruction, and neither is Ramsey.
It’s disheartening to think about, but this stigma will likely follow Ramsey throughout the remainder of his Arsenal career.
All he can do is make the most of the positions he takes up. Few would be calling him a weak link if he performed as well as he did three years ago.