Club Focus – Stoke – Arsenal clash just a week shy of Ramsey’s grim anniversary

Wednesday night sees Arsenal and Stoke City meet in the Premier League almost a year to the day of Aaron Ramsey’s dreadful double leg fracture at the Britannia Stadium. The mis-timed tackle from Ryan Shawcross that caused the Welsh starlet’s injury reignited the bitter feud between the sides, and has taken a heavy toll on both players. In fact, it could be argued that neither has truly recovered from last March’s unfortunate incident.

For Ramsey, the timing was especially poor, as he seemed to be establishing himself in the Arsenal first team. As an energetic box-to-box midfielder with a fine range of passing and an eye for goal, the then 19-year-old had drawn comparisons from Arsene Wenger to an “offensive-minded Roy Keane,” racking up four goals and three assists in his 12 starts for the North London giants in 2009/10.

This season has seen Ramsey take the first steps along the road to recovery. A loan spell at Nottingham Forest showed promise but proved something of a false start as he made just two starts for Billy Davies’ team before returning to the Emirates. A return to Cardiff has proved more fruitful however – his form and fitness improving with each game. His most notable contribution to the Bluebirds’ promotion push has so far been the assist for Craig Bellamy’s fine winner against Swansea in the fiercely-contested South Wales derby.

While Shawcross’ trauma can hardly be compared to that experienced by Ramsey on his long rehabilitation, the young Stoke defender was nevertheless left devastated by the whole affair. Only the most myopic of Gunners’ fans would suggest that there was any malice in Shawcross’ challenge on Ramsey, and replays clearly saw both players going for the ball. Criticism might justifiably be levelled at the former Manchester United centre-back for the force and timing of the tackle, but there was no intent to injure, as was evidenced by the dismissed Shawcross leaving the pitch in tears as Ramsey was stretchered off the field.

By a quirk of fate, Fabio Capello had handed Shawcross his first call up to the senior England squad on that very evening. However, 12 months later the defender is still to win a cap for his country, and in truth his form during that time has not warranted such recognition. The ice cool composure, teak-toughness and expert positioning that marked him as a Premier League centre-back of some distinction over the past two seasons have not been on display as frequently this term, with an alarming hesitancy creeping into his game. He has been eclipsed at Stoke by his central defensive partner Robert Huth, while a penchant for conceding silly fouls has made him one of only four players to be red-carded twice in the top flight this season. He has seemed in recent weeks, however, to be close to recapturing his best form in recent weeks. Excellent in last weekend’s defeat to Birmingham, he played a big part in Saturday’s FA Cup win over Brighton, scoring his first goal of the season in the process.

With Ramsey hundreds of miles away in South Wales, all eyes will be on Ryan Shawcross at the Emirates on Wednesday evening. The hostile reception he is sure to receive from the home crowd will be a real test of his ability to handle pressure. Yet in his time at Stoke to date, the 23-year-old has generally shown a maturity far beyond his years that has seen Tony Pulis hand him the captain’s armband. Hopefully, it will not be long before Ramsey and Shawcross are able to put the events of last March behind them, and fulfil their potential as two of Britain’s brightest young footballing talents.

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