So, just like that another season of Premier League football has finished, but as everybody knows, the footballing conversations are just about to start. With Arsenal fans, some of those conversations may be whether the F.A. Cup victory is good enough? Whether Arsene Wenger should stay or go? Or maybe what players should be coming into the squad in the summer.
But one question that seems to be as age-old as the others is ‘Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere’. It’s not quite ‘Messi or Ronaldo’ but still an interesting debate amongst Arsenal fans.
With Ramsey joining Arsenal around the same time that Wilshere was breaking into the first team, the pair have always seemed to be put up against each other by fans as each seemingly played better without the other in the side. One analogy I’ve found strangely funny, but accurate, has been that the two resemble Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort as “neither can live while the other survives”.
Obviously this situation isn’t as dire as J.K. Rowling’s story but the comparison seems to fit quite well. With that in mind, looking back over the 2016/17 season that appeared to be the case yet again. Both had quite similar seasons but the timing of their peaks and troughs sort of overlapped each other.
Coming into the season off the back of an amazing Euro 2016 with Wales (which saw him rack up four assists and a goal helping them to the semi-final) Ramsey’s upcoming season looked to be encouraging as he was also given the number 8 shirt. Sadly though, Ramsey’s injury plagued season began with a hamstring injury in the opening day defeat against Liverpool, which sidelined him for a couple of months.
In this time Wilshere secured his loan move to Bournemouth in search of more consistent game time, and for the large part, looking at it from that aspect, the loan was more successful than not. Up to that trip to White Hart Lane in April, Wilshere’s season was pretty much injury free as he expectedly cemented his name in Eddie Howe’s midfield. Playing deeper in midfield, Wilshere’s goal contribution wasn’t much to write home about (no goals and two assists) but that doesn’t take away from his performances for Bournemouth as Jack Wilshere did what Jack Wilshere does. Known more for his contributions in build-up play, this remained the case this season as he completed 70% of his take-ons with 24 accelerations, averaging two dribbles a game. Also, despite only getting two assists, over the course of the season the 25-year-old played 32 key passes, so maybe, with better quality up front, more of those could’ve been converted. Wilshere wasn’t only unlucky picking up that injury at Tottenham as he hit the woodwork on four occasions. Some may have thought Jack’s season was quiet but he definitely played his part in getting Bournemouth to ninth place.
After spells in and out of the Arsenal team because of injury midseason, Ramsey finally started to get some joy near the back end of the season. Arsene Wenger’s switch to a 3-4-3 couldn’t have come at a better time for the Welshman as his individual performances soared in a system similar to the one that served him well in the Euros. Playing more as a box to box midfielder, rather than having to stay sitting in front of the defence, this played to Ramsey’s strengths as we saw him making those late third man runs which he does so well, as Granit Xhaka sitting back gave him the license to roam forward. That side of the game has always suited Ramsey better and this season was no different as he scored four and assisted five, two of the goals came after the formation switch and the last one being the all-important F.A. Cup winning goal following that late burst into the box.
We’ve seen this type of pattern before with these two, as one seems to perform better when the other isn’t around as much, like in the 2010/11 season when Wilshere broke through as Ramsey was recovering from that ankle break. Also, with Ramsey putting in top drawer, trophy winning performances in the past (2013/14 in particular) and of late, it looks like he has taken on his ‘potential’ more head on that Wilshere and with the two now maturing it really is becoming crunch time.
But looking forward it looks to be growing more likely that the two may never excel as a midfield pair together. This new formation that Wenger has adopted makes that look even more like the case. With Xhaka and Ramsey forming quite a partnership together in recent weeks, it doesn’t look like anyone will be able to move them, especially if this system is used next season.
Yes, the sentimental factor may see some Arsenal fans prefer Wilshere to Ramsey, but with the Welshman showing what he can do again, it may be time for this debate to come to an end after all… But who knows, maybe next year will be Jack’s year, either way I hope both perform to the best of their abilities.