For nearly two years the mention of Aaron Ramsey's name and the word "injury" in the same sentence was enough to leave soccer fans wincing and give the player himself nightmares.
Back in February 2010, Ramsey, Arsenal's 20-year-old sensation, had his career threatened by a horrific incident in which his right tibia and fibula were broken in a tackle from Stoke's Ryan Shawcross. Anyone who has seen the footage will never forget it: Ramsey's leg crumpled and folded with the impact and left him screaming in agony on the field.
For all Ramsey's talent and promise, it was that sickening moment that, sadly, had been the most memorable of his career to date, due to its graphic and stomach-turning nature.
Yet following Wednesday night, the word "injury" will mean something different to Ramsey. The youngster scored a dramatic and much-needed winning goal for Arsenal at Marseille, to put the London club on top of Group F in the Champions League. And it came, appropriately, during injury time, in the dying moments of a game that looked set to peter out in a 0-0 draw.
Amid a season that has seen Arsenal struggle desperately and fall behind the leading lights of the English Premier League, it was a moment of pure joy, not just for Ramsey but also for head coach Arsene Wenger. The Gunners now have seven points from three games in the Champions League and are looking good to get into the knockout stages once more, a feat Arsenal always seems to manage even when things are not going so well domestically.
"A few wins can build some confidence and get us back on track," Ramsey said. "That is when you will really start to see the best of us."
Marseille's tough and physical attacking line was expected to give Arsenal problems and a goalless draw, a result that looked likely deep into the game and would have been a perfectly reasonable result for the visitors. Instead, Ramsey's goal secured the ideal outcome, and with two of its remaining three group games at home, Arsenal now has one foot in the last 16.
Ramsey's road back to fitness was a long and painful one, requiring daily sessions of rehabilitation, including the initial task of simply learning how to walk again.
"It was a difficult time, and at moments like that it can be hard to stay positive," Ramsey said. "But you have to believe you are in good hands and that you will be back. You have to try not to think about what happened, and I have done that. It is gone for me now."
Arsenal is still a long way removed from where it wants to be, and even Ramsey's memorable goal came as a result of a mistake: His teammate Gervinho tried to control the ball on the edge of the penalty area but instead unwittingly directed it into precisely the right spot.
Wenger and Arsenal fans, though, will take any positive they can get right now as the stricken club attempts to rebuild its season. Ramsey's presence – and his opportunistic eye – is at least one cause for optimism.
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