Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey Saga Makes Little Sense On The Pitch [Opinion]

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With longtime Gunner Aaron Ramsey in the final season of his contract, he engaged in talks this summer and fall on an extension that would make him one of the highest-paid players on the team. While Ramsey was curious about what the future might hold should he sell his services to the highest bidder at the end of his contract, he was keen to remain with the team that had made him an international star. The team was also apparently keen to retain him, as they offered him a contract in excess of 200,000 pounds per week, which apparently both sides had agreed upon. Then, out of nowhere, Arsenal pulled the offer.

The reasons that the club has given for their abandonment of negotiations have been opaque. Arsenal Chief of Football Operations Raul Sanllehi was circuitous in his explanation for the club’s decision. “I am not here to talk about individual cases but to talk more of the philosophy we are bringing,” Sanhelli said, according to the Mirror. “Any decision that we take is thoroughly discussed, debated among several professional people sharing one common objective, which is what is best for the club. Any decision we take along the way is always going to be based on whether this is good or bad for Arsenal, if it’s a responsible decision or if it can be detrimental to Arsenal. That is basically our main criteria in every step of the decision making.”

Manager Unai Emery was asked point blank about Ramsey’s situation but refused to comment, according to Metro. “For me, January is very far. I’m thinking about Monday’s match first… I want the mentality for the next match. Individual things are not for me to speak about now.”

Sources close to the club believe that it was Emery who pulled the plug on Ramsey’s contract negotiations, with many speculating that Emery wants to bring in one of his former stars instead. Former Arsenal star Paul Merson told Express that the move was “Typical Arsenal” and that “It seems to me the manager has said ‘I can get better somewhere else.'”

That’s debatable. Ramsey is nearing the end of his football prime, and so far this season has been his worst passing the ball since he came to Arsenal. However, Ramsey is one of Arsenal’s most valuable players. He can play anywhere in the central midfield. While he is best up top an attacking mid — a position that Arsenal is well-stocked in — he is adept at playing a deep-lying position or in a flat central midfield role. Ramsey’s versatility allows Emery a plethora of formation and lineup options game-to-game. Furthermore, modern football analytics show that most of a player’s value is tied up in their movement and positioning off the ball, and in this regard Ramsey is one of the best in the world. His work rate is matched by only a tiny fraction of all the players in the world, and he helps his team in both the attacking and defensive ends of the pitch. He is also a dynamic attacking player with speed and the ability to finish. Who would Emery bring in that can do all of that?

Furthermore, modern analytics suggest that football is a “weak-link” sport, where a team reaps the benefits of upgrading their weakest player far more than upgrading their better players. This seems intuitive to some degree, but football is a sport in which teams often throw tons of money at star players they don’t need. Ramsey is certainly not the worst player on the team. He is one of the best. So replacing him is a zero-sum game at best.

While there is little to suggest that Arsenal’s decision is a performance-based one, the move can be explained from a purely business perspective, but only if Ramsey is allowed to leave and a cheaper replacement is brought into the team. Arsenal has long been known as a financially responsible club. It is one of the few professional football clubs that have a positive accounting balance, an enormously impressive feat for a team that often competes at the highest levels of the game. Arsenal still has the aging, disappointing, and underperforming Mesut Ozil on the books. Ozil is an attacking midfielder, one of the best passers in the game who has some finishing ability but offers little else, but who makes in excess of 300,000 pounds per week. Lucas Torreira has played well since joining the team for a hefty fee this summer. Also attacking midfielders, high-priced past transfers Granit Xhaka and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are best in more deep-lying roles. So the team has the depth to absorb the loss of Ramsey, but they will be unquestionably worse on the pitch without him. The balance register, on the other hand, will be significantly improved.

While Ramsey’s agents have begun negotiating with “half of Europe” to secure a new deal for next season and beyond, according to Metro, the team and the player are left trying to make the best of a bad situation. It seems a veritable certainty that Ramsey will leave the Emirates after this season, and when it does it will be a sad day in the history of a proud franchise.