Scoring the winning goal against Manchester United is one thing, but on Sunday Aaron Ramsey will face a challenge that is perhaps even tougher. For Arsenal's Premier League clash with Stoke City the 20-year-old will return for the first time to the Britannia Stadium, where 14 months ago he suffered a horrific double leg fracture that for a while cast doubt on his ability to pursue a career that only now is beginning to regain its promise. There will be no escaping the reminders of his darkest hour.

The injury that followed a mistimed tackle by Stoke's Ryan Shawcross, whom he will come up against again on Sunday, was so gruesome that several team-mates turned away in anguish. The Stoke midfielder Glenn Whelan was the nearest player to the stricken Ramsey and instinctively rushed to comfort him during the few seconds it took for Arsenal's medical staff to arrive on the scene. "I knew something terrible had happened," Whelan recalls. "I could see that things weren't right, and he obviously knew himself, but he was trying to touch his leg and look at it and I was trying to take his mind off it, just saying not to worry, just talking nonsense really."

Naturally Ramsey did worry. So did his many admirers. Eighteen months previously, having joined Arsenal for £5m after helping Cardiff City to the FA Cup final, he had been hailed as one of the most exciting prospects in British football, and he fuelled those expectations with classy performances for Arsenal and Wales, for whom he made his senior debut in November 2008 at the age of 17. Now there was a danger he was washed up.

Ramsey spent nine months on the sidelines, less time than expected. After his leg healed, he still needed to regain match fitness so earlier this season he had loan stints at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff. Then in March he made his comeback for Arsenal, featuring in the FA Cup defeat at Manchester United. Gradually, however, he was getting his groove back and his recovery reached a landmark point when he drove in the goal that downed United last weekend.

Arsène Wenger suggests that the one positive consequence of his injury is that it may have given the Welshman even greater psychological strength. "I think there is no better maturing system than what happened to him," the Arsenal manager says. "To be suddenly blocked at the age of 18 when you're flying and having to wait a year without knowing what will happen – certainly he is mentally stronger now. You have to be."

Nevertheless, Wenger believes that Wales made a mistake in making Ramsey captain in March. "I really feel it was a bit too much pressure on him after not being completely ready himself," Wenger says. "At that stage he had to focus on all the duties of the captain and I think it was a period in which he needed more time to focus on his own performance. But now I feel he's nearly there."

The final stage in his recovery, perhaps, will come on Sunday when he must surmount the mental challenge posed by the scene of his agony. Wenger admits that there is no way of knowing for sure how the player will react but knows the confrontation must take place. "There will always be a question mark about that," Wenger says. "But it's like you have a car accident: do you never drive again? Of course you do, and the earlier the better."

For Shawcross too, it will be a challenging day. He left the field in tears following his part in Ramsey's injury and was deeply distressed by insinuations by Wenger that he had meant to hurt his opponent. Barracked by Arsenal fans when Stoke visited the Emirates earlier in the season, Shawcross will again be reminded of the incident he would rather forget when he sees Ramsey. Stoke's assistant manager, Dave Kemp, insists the centre-back will not let sentiment influence his performance. "In any player's career you will have ups and downs and things you have to deal with. I don't expect anything to affect his performance." said Kemp.