Ramsey: Every season I want to win the cup. It’s a trophy that means a lot to me
I got to live my boyhood dream. Scoring the winner in the FA Cup final is something not many people get to achieve
“I got to live my boyhood dream,” Aaron Ramsey tells FFT as an uncontrollable smile cracks across his face.
The Welshman tilts back on his chair and pauses as the memory of his extra-time winner at Wembley flickers through his mind.
“Scoring the winner in the FA Cup final is something not many people get to achieve and I’ve managed to do that.”
Ramsey’s goal ended Arsenal’s nine-year wait for a trophy and fulfilled a fantasy he’d been chasing since childhood. The all-action midfielder lashed a clever backheel from Olivier Giroud past Hull City’s Allan McGregor in the 109th minute, to make it 3-2 to the Gunners, and complete a memorable comeback in last year’s final.
“It was an amazing feeling and amazing day. It was a great year for me and to top it off like that was even better,” adds Ramsey.
“Hopefully I can have a similar end to this season.” And he’ll get the chance this Saturday under the arch at Wembley when Arsenal take on Aston Villa looking to retain the trophy.
For now, he’s sitting down with FFT at the luxurious Grove hotel in Hertfordshire, to talk about his love of football’s oldest cup competition. It even feels like an FA Cup final day, as piercing blue skies, punctuated by the odd wispy white cloud, drape over the country estate’s immaculate golf courses.
Ramsey, a keen golfer, is clearly itching to whip out his clubs and whack balls around in the sunshine. The only thing that can hold his attention is talk of a second successive FA Cup winner's medal. Given his age, you’d think the magic of the cup would be lost on the 24-year-old. The hype of the Premier League and Champions League has devoured audiences, sending the FA’s showpiece competition down the pecking order. But Ramsey still believes in the romance. Ronnie Radford moments still make him swoon.
The FA Cup still has all its magic. I love it. You can’t beat all the drama and excitement, the giant-killings, the upsets, the great goals – you don’t get all of this in other cup competitions. It’s unique. The FA Cup is what football is all about
“The FA Cup still has all its magic,” he insists. “I love it. You can’t beat all the drama and excitement, the giant-killings, the upsets, the great goals – you don’t get all of this in other cup competitions. It’s unique. The FA Cup is what football is all about.”
With the financial rewards far greater in England’s top flight, clubs often field weakened teams to save their players’ legs. The suggestion the players are following suit and losing interest in the FA Cup prompts Ramsey to sit up and fire back a defiant response.
“This will be my third final [after 2008 and 2014] and I certainly give my all when I play in the competition,” he says. “Every season I want to go out and win the cup. It’s a competition that means a lot to me.”
He may have a fierce desire to lift the prize aloft this weekend, but so do Villa’s players – and they haven’t won the trophy since 1957. “We can write history and we have to realise that. It’s been so long since Villa won the cup, and we can do it – we are so close. This is our chance,” exclaimed defender Ron Vlaar.
On paper, there’s no doubt Arsenal are favourites. The holders finished third in the Premier League, securing automatic qualification for next season's Champions League, scoring eight goals in two games against Villa along the way. The Villans only just survived relegation.
They looked destined for Championship football until Tim Sherwood took over in mid-February. The former Tottenham boss rejuvenated the Midlands club, scrapping the negative approach of Paul Lambert’s stewardship, and encouraged his team to play with confidence and daring.
They caused an upset in the semi-final against Liverpool so we’re aware that if we don’t nullify their threat and match them physically, we’ll have a game on our hands
Sherwood’s infectious enthusiasm invigorated the players and they turned their season around. After failing to win in 10 games, scoring just twice during this run, they won five of their last 13, netting 19 times to preserve their Premier League status. A 1-0 home defeat to Burnley and a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Southampton consigned Villa to a 17th-place finish, tarnishing an otherwise impressive escape. While Ramsey admits the north Londoners are the team under pressure to perform, he warned his team-mates against complacency, pointing towards Villa’s slaying of Liverpool in the semi-final.
“Bar their last two results, they’ve finished the season strongly, and picked up enough points to keep them in the Premier League,” Arsenal’s No.16 points out. "They’ve shown they’re a threat going forward.
"They caused an upset in the semi-final against Liverpool so we’re aware that if we don’t nullify their threat and match them physically, we’ll have a game on our hands.
"Beating Liverpool was a message in itself. We’ll have to take them seriously. As long as we play the way that we can and match them in every department then I’m confident we can retain the cup.”
Should Arsene Wenger’s men do the business, Arsenal will claim their second trophy in two seasons, firmly banishing the nine trophyless years that preceded the 2014 success. This, for Ramsey, would mark progress.
“If we can win on Saturday that will set us up perfectly for next season,” he says. "There was a lot of pressure on the club because we’d gone so long without winning any silverware, but last year’s win took that weight off our backs and now we’re looking to build on the momentum. We made a slow start to the season, but we’ve been strong in the second half and we want to make sure we finish it off with a trophy. We’ve grown stronger as a team and we want to be making winning trophies a habit.”
On a personal level, Ramsey continues to underline his importance to the team. Competing with an array of attacking talents for a starting berth would force lesser players out of the club, but there’s not a smidgeon of self-doubt under the former Cardiff City man’s laidback demeanour.
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His insatiable ambition, tireless work ethic and supreme self-confidence have enabled him to shine during another season interrupted by injury. He’s reached double-figures in goals (11) for the second season running and registered seven assists. After his heroics in last year’s final, does he fancy himself to add to his goal tally and live out his boyhood dream one more time?
“Hopefully,” he says with a coy smile. “That would be the perfect scenario – we win and I score the winner. As long as we turn up on the day and take them seriously, I think we can win it and that’s the most important thing.”