Aaron Ramsey is 22, but he may never have a period of form for the rest of his career. However the fact he’s 22 means that he could also get better and better. Considering how young he was when he arrived at Arsenal, it feels like Ramsey has been around for a long time, but the reality is that his best years at Arsenal are ahead of him.
Against his former team, Ramsey scored two in Arsenal’s 3-0 victory away to Cardiff. With other teams in and around the top four playing on Sunday, Arsenal have built up a healthy advantage and increased the pressure on the chasing pack.
Ramsey received an excellent reception from the home supporters, in stark contrast to the one he got at Swansea earlier in the season, and he showed respect back by not celebrating either of his goals. The first of which was a fantastic header and the second was a clinical finish on the break in injury time. Cardiff fans looked proud that the best player in the Premier League this season started at their club, but Arsenal fans are very pleased that he’s wearing the red and yellow of the Gunners. There’s very little to add about Ramsey and how both him and Wenger deserve immense credit for his improvement. If he continues his form, Arsenal will continue to have a big say in the title race.
If Ramsey will grab the headlines, Arsenal’s big-money headline maker quietly made some telling contributions. Mesut Ozil has had some criticism for not being as involved in recent weeks, but for a player that is still finding his way in the Premier League, he’s the leading assist maker in the division. Since missing his penalty against Marseille, it’s hardly played on his mind and restricted his performance. He grabbed an assist for Jack Wilshere on Tuesday and then laid on two goals against Cardiff. His cross for Ramsey’s header was excellent, and his pass for the second Arsenal goal made Flamini’s job of finishing it a lot easier. Whatever people say about Ozil, he has already shown he can make a difference in decisive moments.
After an indifferent performance against Southampton, Mikel Arteta was back to his best against Cardiff with an excellent performance in shielding the defence. He made some vital interceptions, tackles and his passing was consistent. For years, a holding midfielder has been one of the areas of the pitch that the media always highlight as one the Gunners need to improve on. Now, Arsene Wenger has two excellent options in that position. Flamini was excellent on Tuesday in the Champions League, and Arteta did the job on Saturday. With that strength, Wenger can rotate and keep the energy levels up in a key area of the pitch.
Arteta made a key contribution to the Arsenal defence keeping another clean sheet, their fifth in six games. The back four were solid, but when Cardiff did get a sniff of the Gunners goal, Wojciech Szczesny was again in unbeatable form. Gibbs hesitated when the ball ballooned in the air in the Arsenal box, and Frazier Campbell pounced to head towards goal. Szczesny’s diving save to his right was as spectacular as it was vital. At 1-0 up, Cardiff did exert some pressure, but the Arsenal team didn’t buckle.
Going into the last ten minutes, the game was quite tense and in previous seasons, Arsenal could have panicked at just 1-0 up. However the strong squad meant that the introductions from the bench calmed Arsenal down and made the difference to seal the three points. Although introduced to defend, the rolled-up sleeved Mathieu Flamini burst forward to get on the end of Ozil’s perfect pass to hammer in the second goal. Nacho Monreal did another good job in helping see out the game on the left hand side. Even though he came on at the start of injury time, Theo Walcott used his pace effectively on the counter attack to grab an assist for Ramsey’s second goal.
To have reliable and effective options on the bench is reassuring. To have negotiated the first third of the season with some injuries whilst still maintaining good form bodes well for the rest of the season, when the returns of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski and (optimistically!) Diaby will give Arsenal other options to change matches.
Cardiff City drew with Manchester United at home last weekend and beat Manchester City earlier in the season, so this 3-0 win shouldn’t be underestimated. With the double header with Manchester City and Chelsea to come in December, Arsenal are giving themselves a cushion of points and increasing the pressure on the teams behind them. With every match, belief is being strengthened that this really is a different Arsenal team and that it’s one that can challenge for the title.