There is a now-infamous photograph from December 2012, taken in an Arsenal boardroom, which shows Arsène Wenger standing behind Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Now, only the first two still remain at the club – and with the Welshman out of contract in the summer and his departure more or less set in stone, Jenkinson will soon stand as the last remaining relic of the ‘British core’ project.
In the post-2005 era, Ramsey has been one of Arsenal’s most influential players. Not many get to score the winning goal in an FA Cup final – and yet Ramsey has done it twice, in 2014 and 2017. 242 of his 338 Arsenal appearances have come in the Premier League, while his goal-scoring contribution in 2013/14 was the best run of form by an Arsenal player in the last 10 years. That led to him signing a new deal which is now in its final year. All that after making his comeback from a horrific injury that almost snapped his leg in two.
Of all the young British players that Wenger wanted to build his teams around, Ramsey has performed the best. But despite all that and his many achievements for the club, even he has hit a stumbling block. Named Arsenal’s Player of the Season in May, Ramsey’s decade-long stay in north London looks set to end.
During pre-season, Unai Emery sounded relatively confident when he spoke about Ramsey’s contract situation, stating how important the 27-year-old was to his plans. “The contract is one thing for the club and one thing for the player,” he said in July. “I want him to stay with us, to work with us, to give big performances with his quality. I think he’s going to stay with us.” His inclusion in the opening stages of the season went some way to backing up what he said, but Ramsey has struggled to find his best form in the new system, which doesn’t even come close to getting the best out of him – although that was the case even before Emery’s arrival, and part of the reason why Arsenal have seen only flashes of the midfielder’s best form.
More than once, Ramsey has expressed his desire to play abroad, and a Bosman transfer would be ideal for him. After Wales’ defeat to Spain, he essentially confirmed that Arsenal withdrew a contract offer that would have seen him spend the peak years of his career with the north Londoners. However, he insisted that he is not planning for a mid-season move, while also hinting that there might be room for further discussion should they wish to retain his services. Ramsey’s admirable and honest answer speaks volumes about his character, and exemplifies why he is such a popular figure at the club:
“Everything has been going great with the club – we thought we were in a position where we had agreed a deal but that’s no longer the case. So I just have to carry on playing my football and do my best for Arsenal this season and I’ll leave the rest with the club.
“Am I disappointed? That’s a decision they have made and things happen in football and you just have to get on with it. That’s all I am concentrating on and giving my best for Arsenal.
“Would I stay for the rest of the season? Of course, yeah. I am contracted to Arsenal and I am going to do my best to try and achieve something special.”
Emery has said that he does not expect the breakdown in negotiations with the squad’s longest-serving player to affect his performance levels. The news of the contract withdrawal, however, and Ramsey’s probable departure is likely to have an impact on his relationship with Emery, who has to consider the best course of action to build his team. The situation has led many to suggest leaving him out of the team altogether, but that wouldn’t be a very good idea: his (literally) instant impression from the bench at Craven Cottage – to take the most recent example – is one way of illustrating his commendable commitment to the club, and suggests that he can be a real asset for Arsenal between now and January/May, even though his role until the end of the season may be limited.
The decision to go separate ways may well have been a financial one: the only possible solution for getting past this roadblock would be a pay rise that Arsenal will be reluctant to offer, considering the fact that they are trying to cut their wage bill. Ideally, the club would want to engineer a sale in January to raise funds for and find a replacement, but that could prove to be problematic, not least because the player himself has seemingly no intention of leaving in the middle of the season.
This state of affairs has also brought to the fore another glaring issue: the indecisiveness of the boardroom. Last season, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Wilshere were all allowed to get into the final 12 months of their deals; with the new structures in place over the summer, there should be no reason why Arsenal now find themselves in the same situation with Ramsey.
If time was on Emery’s side, he would have been able to use this transitioning season to assess how to best make use of Ramsey’s work ethic and technical abilities in a team engaged in pressing from the front. After his goal-of-the-season contender against Fulham, Emery reiterated that Ramsey is a “very important player” for the club; he showed his quality when he created and finished a stunning team move. That being said, his role on the pitch is uncertain, on some occasions his inner frustration is apparent, and contract talks are at an impasse: it appears that Arsenal are now actively considering what not-so-long ago would have been almost unthinkable, but now looks increasingly inevitable.