When Aaron Ramsey first returned to Cardiff City with Arsenal, a little under five years ago, some of the home supporters booed him, he was substituted after 59 minutes and, in the words of Arsène Wenger, the midfielder "had a nightmare". The Welshman's second visit, in stark contrast, went like an absolute dream.
Ramsey scored two superb goals – taking his tally for the season to 13 – and left the pitch to applause from all sides of the ground after a brilliant performance that provided evidence of how much he has matured as a player. "I'm as amazed as everyone else," Wojciech Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper, said. "We always knew that he could play well but to score as many as he has … any striker would be delighted with that. He's been so good."
Ramsey was a class act here in every sense, from the clinical way he took his goals to the respect he gave his former club by refusing to celebrate.
Cardiff fans, to their credit, showed their own appreciation, clapping after Ramsey put Arsenal ahead with an excellent header and again when he thrashed home a right-foot shot in injury-time. "I was really pleased the way that the fans reacted, I thought they were fantastic," Ramsey said. "And hopefully I put on a performance for them.
"This is where everything began and hopefully they've seen the player that they produced. They realised that I needed to make the next step, I think, and they were really respectful. And I gave them my respect as well by not celebrating."
Ramsey's form continues to astound. He has upstaged Mesut Özil, the club-record signing from Real Madrid, who set up another two goals to top the Premier League assists chart with six, and there would surely be only one winner if there was an early vote for Footballer of the Year. "Ramsey has been outstanding until now," Wenger said. "You [the media] want always to jump into the future but we have to enjoy the present. If he keeps playing like that, of course [he would be Footballer of the Year], but it has only been a third of the season."
That fact makes Ramsey's goal return – 15 including the two he has scored for Wales – even more remarkable. Wenger provoked laughter before Arsenal's Champions League game in Marseille in September when he responded to a question about Ramsey's prolific start to the season by saying that the 22-year-old could not continue scoring at the same rate or he would end up with 30 goals. A couple of months later and that possibility no longer seems so far-fetched.
For the Arsenal manager, who has an embarrassment of riches in midfield, the temptation must be to put Ramsey's name on the team-sheet in every game. "I have to treat him like the other players and give him a breather when he needs it," said Wenger, who has started Ramsey in all but one league match. "I want him to continue to develop, but he is so young, you imagine why should he stop his development now? Let's not forget that one year ago everyone questioned him. That shows you that he deserves credit – he has turned a corner and he can continue to improve."
Sandwiched between Ramsey's goals, Mathieu Flamini scored his first since returning in the summer, which ended any hopes Malky Mackay's side had of salvaging something and cemented Arsenal's place at the top of the table.
Wednesday's home fixture against Hull offers a decent chance to pick up another win before three tricky games, against Everton at home, Manchester City away and Chelsea at home, in the lead up to Christmas. Come through that sequence unscathed and Arsenal's title credentials will be hard to ignore.
"There's an important period coming up, hopefully now we can stay there or thereabouts until after Christmas," Ramsey said. "Our form after Christmas has been second to none over the last few years so if we get ourselves in a good position, I'm sure we'll have a verysuccessful season."
As for Cardiff, who travel to Stoke on Wednesday and Crystal Palace on Saturday, Ramsey is confident his old club will survive. "I think they've got a fantastic manager here, one that has got them really solid defensively. They've picked up really good points and, with this sort of atmosphere here, I'm sure they'll have enough to stay up – hopefully they do."
Man of the match Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)