Arsene Wenger has praised the improvement in Aaron Ramsey’s defensive game as the midfielder prepares to take on his boyhood club Cardiff City for the first time on Saturday. Having risen through the youth ranks in the Welsh capital, Ramsey came to prominence for his performances in Cardiff’s run to the 2008 FA Cup final and was duly snapped up by Arsenal when still just 17 years old.
His progress was dramatically derailed, however, by a double leg fracture in 2010. Many wondered whether the injury would define his career and he even spent a loan spell back at Cardiff as he tried to get back on track. This season he has been a player reborn, fulfilling the early promise he showed at Cardiff and then some. While much has been made of Ramsey’s eight goals thus far this season, Wenger took time to herald his contribution to Arsenal’s improvement without the ball.
"Aaron has first a fantastic engine," Wenger told the official Arsenal website. "I believe his defensive awareness has improved, his defensive qualities have improved and his defensive score is very strong now.
"After that he has a huge desire to play every single ball. He wins the 50:50s -- that was not the case a year ago.
"If you let him, he takes the ball at the back, passes to himself in midfield and passes to himself up front because he wants the ball so much. That's why his presence is so massive in a game."
Arsenal travel to Cardiff on the back of a comfortable 2-0 victory over Marseille that puts them within touching distance of a place in the Champions League knockout phase. And things are going equally well in the Premier League, where they hold a four point advantage at the top of the table.
Wenger has no new injury worries for the weekend, with Kieran Gibbs back available after illness ruled him out in midweek. Lukas Podolski is still three weeks away from a return, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will not be back until the New Year.
Arsenal’s opponents also come in the fixture on a high. After beating Manchester City at home earlier in the season, Cardiff took points off champions Manchester United last Sunday courtesy of an injury-time equalizer. Wenger is not expecting an easy afternoon.
“They look to have good solidarity, good togetherness [and] fantastic support as well,” he explained. They are all on the same wavelength in the team and are very efficient at home on set-pieces.”
Malky Mackay has a fully-fit squad at his disposal as he attempts to take Cardiff further clear of the relegation zone. Influential midfielder Gary Medel escaped retrospective action for appearing to slap Marouane Fellaini late on against Manchester United.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off from the Cardiff City Stadium at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.