Exclusive: Wales legend Nicholas heralds young Arsenal duo
Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are the future for Arsenal, says former Gunner
Two young Arsenal midfielders could hold the key to who comes out on top in Saturday’s Euro 2012 qualifier between Wales and England.
Jack Wilshere is pretty much a certain starter in England’s engine room after a season in which he has shot to prominence in the Gunners midfield, impressing England boss Fabio Capello in the process.
And it looks likely he will be locking horns with club-mate Aaron Ramsey, who hopes to complete his rehabilitation in front of a 69,000 sell-out at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The word coming from south Wales is that manager Gary Speed will start him against the old enemy from across the Severn.
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Another former Arsenal and Wales midfielder – Peter Nicholas – will be delighted if he is given the nod in the Welsh midfield.
“I hope he starts and I think he will, which will be a big boost for the boy – and for his country,” says Newport-born Nicholas ahead of Saturday’s eagerly anticipated clash.
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“He is confident, physically improving with every game, and looks like he is psychologically a very strong lad – he is an absolute credit. To think that he will be running out in front of a packed Millennium Stadium this Saturday after everything he has been through is amazing! That injury seems a long time ago now...”
The ‘injury’ Nicholas refers to remains lodged in the minds of Arsenal fans at the Britannia Stadium to see it. It is only 13 months since Ramsey’s fledgling career was in grave doubt after Ryan Shawcross’s horrific tackle broke his tibia and fibula.
Uncomplaining, Ramsey rested and worked solidly at regaining his fitness, impressing the Emirates hierarchy enough for them to offer him a new, improved contract last summer, just weeks after he came out of plaster.
Following loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, Ramsey has played twice for the Gunners – earning a rapturous applause at both Old Trafford and The Hawthorns.
Nicholas, who made 80 appearances for Terry Neill’s Arsenal between 1981 and 1983, has been impressed with Ramsey’s form since his return.
“I watched the boy when he was loaned back to Cardiff and he was different class. I saw him going into 50/50s totally unfazed. That shows the heart he has.
“We were all worried about his future after that terrible leg break at Stoke last February. In Wales we don’t have many top players but we could all see Ramsey is the future of Welsh football along with the likes of Gareth Bale.
“Let’s not forget that he was well ahead of Jack Wilshere at Arsenal and has had to watch from the sidelines as Jack cemented his place in the first team. But he has just got on with it and he should be applauded.”
Wales boss Speed concurs. This week he said: “His recovery says a lot about Aaron, both physically and mentally.
“Obviously he’s a young lad so his body has been able to cope, but mentally – and I’ve watched him play the last couple of weeks – he does steam into tackles, there’s no doubt about that. So, mentally, he’s a very strong person.”
Nicholas, capped 73 times by his country, says Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit for Ramsey’s return.
“He is one of the great managers, he knows the quality Aaron has,” adds Nicholas, now assistant coach at Welsh Premier League outfit, AFC Neath. “There has been no pressure on Aaron. Arsenal not rushed the lad back, and that has been the right thing to do.
“I was a young lad when I went to Arsenal and I know the pressure at a club like that, with fans who deserve the very best. I love the club and understand the need for trophies. But Wenger has been very patient with him – and even gave him a new contract when he was months away from returning – and that will have done Aaron the world of good. I believe Arsene – and Arsenal fans – will reap the benefits.
“And I’ll tell you this much; Ramsey cost only �5m from Cardiff and, in time, that will prove to be an absolute steal.”
And while they may be foes this weekend, Nicholas is adamant that Wilshere and Ramsey are the future of Arsenal, and can work together in tandem for years to come.
“Oh, they are made to play together,” says Nicholas, now 51. “Technically they are both superb, they are extremely intelligent footballers and both like a scrap in the middle.
“If Cesc Fabregas goes – and he probably will at some stage – Jack and ‘Rambo’ can slot in together beautifully. They can be a very formidable partnership for the Arsenal.” But not on Saturday.
“We’re all looking forward to this game here in Wales. Jack and Aaron will know each other so well which will make that midfield battle interesting.
“With Ramsey back I am more hopeful that Wales can produce a good performance because they have not been playing well for a few games now.
“It is Gary Speed’s first home game in charge with a guaranteed magnificent atmosphere in a great stadium. I think it will be a draw, and a very entertaining one at that.”