Aaron Ramsey has spoken of his determination to use the remainder of this season, starting with Wales's Euro 2012 qualifier against England at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, to prove that he is capable of recapturing the outstanding form he was showing before a dreadful injury at Stoke sidelined him for nine months.
The England game will be the first time that Ramsey has represented his country since the 3-0 victory over Scotland in November 2009, when he was the stand-out performer in a callow Wales side. His next cap should have come against Sweden the following March but five days before that friendly fixture Ramsey sustained fractures to the tibia and fibula of his right leg in a tackle with Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross at the Britannia Stadium.
It was a serious setback that inevitably led to some people wondering whether he would be able to make a full recovery. Ramsey, however, took encouragement from the support he received from other players who have come back from lengthy spells out of the game, including his Wales team-mate Craig Bellamy, and he returned to competitive action in November, when he joined Nottingham Forest on loan. Another loan spell at Cardiff followed before Arsène Wenger recalled him and gave him his first start for Arsenal in more than a year at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
It was the ninth time Ramsey has started a game since his injury, and led to the 20-year-old claiming he is now fully up to speed. "I had a couple of loan spells and I feel like I'm really back to where I was," he said. "I just want to look forward to the future and what I can do for the rest of the season. Hopefully, I'll be playing a lot more games and show what I'm actually capable of and put it to people that you can come back from injuries like this and still be the same player."
In an intriguing subplot to Saturday's game, Ramsey is likely to be up his Arsenal team-mate Jack Wilshere, who has blossomed during the Welshman's time out. The additional frustration for Ramsey is that he felt he was beginning to impose himself on the Arsenal side prior to Shawcross's challenge. "Before my injury I was just starting to kick on. I started six or seven games on the bounce and I felt like I was going to stake a claim for a place in the starting XI for Arsenal, but these things happen.
"When the injury happened, your career just stops and is put on hold from that moment on for a long time. I dealt with it pretty well. I had my friends and family around, which took my mind off football. Another thing was a few people who have previously had injuries like mine were kind enough to ring me up and reassure me."
Ramsey admits there has been "a bit of banter" between himself and Wilshere ahead of a match in which Wales are desperate to cause an upset and restore some national pride after failing to pick up a point in this qualifying campaign and slumping to 116 – an all-time low – in the Fifa rankings. Hopes rest heavily on the shoulders of Ramsey, Bellamy and Gareth Bale, although the Arsenal midfielder refuses to accept that there is a weight of expectation on their shoulders.
"I don't listen to that sort of thing. I'm just concentrating on my game and I'm sure Gareth and Craig will be the same," he said. "We want to do well for our country and play a part in what will hopefully be a great result for us. But I'm sure we don't feel the pressure."
There is an additional sense of optimism in the Wales camp because of Gary Speed's appointment as manager, which has prompted some of the players to comment on how much more professional the set-up is than it was under John Toshack and how they are looking forward to playing a more free-flowing brand of football.
"It's very exciting," said Ramsey. "There has been a lot of change with the manager and the staff, and what's been put in place is really spot on. The way we've trained and what goes on off the field as well has been a massive difference. And I'm sure that will contribute to what sort of performance we put in."
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