Aaron Ramsey said that he wanted Wales to be drawn in the same group as England for next summer’s European Championship finals in France, and the Arsenal midfielder has warned Roy Hodgson’s players that they will be up against a team who have “come a long way” since their last meeting.
England won 1-0 at Wembley four years ago in a Euro 2012 qualifier that Wales should have claimed a point from, only for Robert Earnshaw to squander an excellent late chance. Ramsey captained Wales on that occasion as well as in the corresponding fixture at the Millennium Stadium six months earlier, when England ran out comfortable 2-0 winners.
The message from Ramsey, however, is that Wales are a totally different proposition now from the team that turned up at Wembley ranked 117th in the world. Chris Coleman’s side climbed to ninth in Fifa’s world rankings in September, putting them above England for the first time, and there will be no inferiority complex when Ramsey and his team-mates line up against Hodgson’s side in Lens.
Asked about the draw, Ramsey said: “It was very exciting. I’m really looking forward to it – it’s new for the team to be involved [in a finals]. It’s going to be a great occasion for us, we’re going to enjoy every minute. Obviously there’s a ‘little’ game in the middle! But while we’re looking to enjoy it, we also want to take it seriously and get out of the group. We’ll be looking to do that.”
Coleman admitted beforehand that he wanted to avoid England, and all the hype that would go with a ‘Battle of Britain’ match, but Ramsey said that he never felt the same way. “To be fair, I wanted England. I think it’ll be a great game for everyone who’s involved in what’ll be seen as a derby if you like. We’ve come a long way since we last played England. I’m sure it’ll be a lot closer this game – and it could go either way.”
Ramsey is full of confidence at the moment after catching the eye in Arsenal’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday. The 24-year-old scored Arsenal’s second, finishing off a brilliant counterattacking move that he started when he won possession deep inside his own half, and Wenger described his performance as outstanding.
The Welshman admitted that he is much more comfortable playing in a central role. “I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “That’s where I feel I play my best football and can have an effect on the game. I’ve scored a couple and had a couple of assists as well in the three games I’ve played there. So I’m delighted with the way things are going in there. Hopefully I can continue to do well.”
With the Premier League wide open, this season is arguably Arsenal’s best chance to win the title for years. “I believe there are a lot more teams now capable of taking points off each other,” Ramsey said. “We’ve been shown that this season with some of the results. But it’s important for us to look after ourselves and get through this busy period and see where we are in January.”