In 2007, he was just a 17-year-old kid on the bench for Cardiff City but Aaron Ramsey has come a long way since that day at Wembley. In fact, Ramsey has graduated to running the midfield of one of the most sophisticated teams in Europe.
No Cesc Fabregas, no problem for Arsenal. Not with the 19-year-old Welsh midfielder taking care of matters in the centre of midfield and calmly seeing off another FA Cup shock. Ramsey (pictured) scored Arsenal's equaliser yesterday, his second in two games, and it was his performance that was the defining factor before Eduardo da Silva settled matters with eight minutes remaining.
With Fabregas out of the side and not expected back until the game against Everton on Saturday, Ramsey is doing a fine job of taking his opportunity to play in the Arsenal first team. This is a teenager who can pass, tackle and score goals. He is known as "Rambo" to his team-mates but then in terms of finesse there is a bit more Rimbaud than Sylvester Stallone to his game.
It could so easily have been embarrassing for Arsenal, who only scored their equaliser to Alessandro Diamanti's goal with 14 minutes left, having gradually taken control of the game, with Ramsey integral. He may not be in the team by the time Arsenal play Stoke City in the FA Cup fourth round later this month, but the Wales international has sent a clear signal to his manager that he is comfortable on the big stage.
Wenger said at the start of the season he set Ramsey a target of playing "15-20 games". "It looks like he will get there very quickly," said the Arsenal manager. "He can play on the flanks and at full-back. He is physically very strong and his best position is central midfield because he is a goalscorer."
While Ramsey flourished, his teenage amigo Jack Wilshere struggled to make an impression. Any judgement should take into consideration the fact he only turned 18 on Friday, but given the great strides he made last season you could sense his frustration yesterday.
To put it bluntly, Wilshere had a stinker. When he comes to look back upon what should be a great career, he will remember yesterday as one of those occasions when virtually nothing went right for him. It happens, but for a young man desperate to make his mark in the professional game it must have been chastening that Arsenal's goals came after he was substituted.
As for Wilshere's desire to go out on loan, Wenger said he would have to wait until some of Arsenal's nine injured players return. Even Andrei Arshavin was unavailable for yesterday's game with a foot injury. "He [Wilshere] needs to play because when he does get games he feels under pressure to deliver something special," Wenger said. "I have no worries for him. We need players to come back before he can go out on loan."
This was not quite Wenger's best team – Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri were substitutes and you suspect Arshavin would have played if necessary – but it was close. Amid all the hysteria surrounding weakened teams in the FA Cup, Wenger gave the most sensible assessment of his priorities.
"The FA Cup matters to me," he said. "The team I picked was [selected] because I wanted to win. The problem is that we played Saturday, Wednesday, against West Ham [yesterday] and then we play Bolton on Wednesday and Everton on Saturday. You cannot play every game with the same 11 players."
There were some unfamiliar faces in the West Ham team too, with Gianfranco Zola giving Frank Nouble and Franco Daprela their first starts. Nouble is still just 18 years-old, a £1m signing from Chelsea's academy in the summer, and at times yesterday he was overwhelmed. For his age he is a very powerful player and when he harnesses that, he will be a contender.
The unfortunate Wilshere was partly involved in Diamanti's goal for West Ham in stoppage time at the end of the first half when Valon Behrami's pass struck him on its way through to the Italian. Diamanti held the line perfectly, William Gallas played him onside and he beat Lukasz Fabianski to the goalkeeper's left side.
Ramsey's goal came as West Ham tired. Alex Song, who departs for the African Cup of Nations in Angola today, played in Carlos Vela who, via a deflection, laid it off to Ramsey. His left-footed shot was too powerful for Robert Green. The England goalkeeper should have done a lot better with the winning goal, a tame header from Eduardo that looped over him.
Zola was upbeat, praising the effort of an inexperienced side which he said struggled to keep pace with Arsenal when Diaby and Nasri came on for the last 25 minutes. Wenger said his plans for the transfer window activity would depend on whether the "big guns" Manchester City and Chelsea spent their money in the Premier League or abroad. The way Arsenal look now, they might just have enough resources.
West Ham (4-4-2): Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Daprela; Diamanti, Kovac, Behrami, Stanislas (Edgar, 87); Jimeenz, Nouble (Sears, 76). Substitutes not used: Stech (gk), Da Costa, Payne, Lee, N'Gala.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Fabianski; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Ramsey, Song, Merida (Diaby, 65); Wilshere (Nasri, 65), Vela, Eduardo. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Traore, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas, Gilbert.
Booked: West Ham Daprela; Arsenal Song.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).
Man of the match: Ramsey.
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