This time last year, Aaron Ramsey was something of an afterthought.
Three seasons had passed since his horrific injury against Stoke and the midfielder had shown no sign of the quality he had exuded as a youngster. Fans everywhere were sympathetic, bar a bizarre pocket of Stoke fans apparently fuming at Ramsey’s decision to have his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross, but the Welshman’s career was presumed to already be on a downslope, with Arsene Wenger’s continuing faith in him viewed as laudable, but misplaced.
As is so often the case, Wenger had the last laugh, as Ramsey delivered one of the most complete seasons seen by a midfielder since Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona. The 23-year-old scored 10 and set up eight goals in 23 Premier League appearances and bagged the winner in the FA Cup final. If not for injury, Ramsey might have driven Arsenal to the title last season and it seemed harsh, even given his limited appearances, that he didn’t make the shortlist for Player of the Year.
Even in a side that now contains Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Ramsey will be the key to Arsenal’s chances of league success this season. If he stays fit, and maintains his levels from last season, there is no reason he won’t be counted as the best midfielder in the Premier League by next summer.
Well perhaps there is one reason.
One massive, Ivorian reason that scored 20 times last season and drove Manchester City to the title.
Yaya Toure came off the back of a disappointing 2012/13 campaign apparently bent on revenge. Adding a new string to his bow in the form of scoring every free kick he can be bothered to take, the Man City midfielder was simply unstoppable a large part of the time he spent on the pitch.
Like Juggernaut of Marvel fame, once Toure gets going, defenders need to lay down their life or, less dramatically, at least accept a yellow card to stop him. The Ivorian scored 20 goals and registered nine assists, a total goal-contribution figure bettered only by Luis Suarez. He also performed the most passes in the division by a country mile, acting as the conduit through which almost every City attack ran.
Toure, aided greatly by his agent, has made a bit of a fool of himself this summer.
He has some legitimate grievances about how black players are portrayed in the media. Too often the term 'beast', or ‘next Patrick Vieira’ is bandied about as a shortcut to describing a Romelu Lukaku or every, single black midfielder. Toure also has some illegitimate grievances; he’s 31 and has three years left on one of the biggest contracts in Premier League history. City are right not to entertain the idea of a new deal, if indeed that was what was behind the birthday cake shenanigans near the start of the summer.
That City were happy to welcome him back with open arms demonstrates again his importance to their cause, but with the Ivorian ageing and Ramsey set to hit his prime, can the intrepid Welshman steal Toure’s crown as the best midfielder in the league next season?
The signs he can were there last term. In terms of per 90 minute stats, Ramsey outperformed Toure in a number of key areas, and the Arsenal man’s lesser goal tally was partly due to the fact that he doesn’t take penalties and free kicks. It’s also notable that Ramsey’s total scoring contribution per 90 minutes of 0.92 is actually ever so slightly higher than Toure’s 0.90.
The other important area where Ramsey provides more than Toure is in his defensive work. Alongside his ridiculous attacking output, Ramsey performed the sixth highest number of tackles per 90 minutes in the league last season with 3.32.
If you’ll permit me to borrow Jamie Redknapp’s dictionary for a second, the 23-year-old can do literally everything. He is the complete midfielder, and if he can maintain his performance levels from last year out over a full, injury-free season, even the Terminator-esque Toure will be surpassed.
The game might, however, be rigged, or at least a little spoiled. Having signed Fernando this summer, the signs are that City might be planning to push Toure further up the pitch, with the two Fernands cleaning up behind him. He will probably score even more goals in this system, but will no longer be directly comparable to Ramsey, still presumably operating as a true box-to-box midfielder at Arsenal.
That’ll be a bit of a shame, but it will only further Ramsey’s claims to be the king of the all-round midfielders in the Premier League. Who’d have thought that 12 months ago?
- Sports & Recreation
- Premier League
- Yaya Toure
- Aaron Ramsey