Arsenal have long been a team synonymous with football that’s easy on the eye. Whilst Liverpool and Manchester City have probably both usurped them as ‘the great entertainers,’ the Gunners are still capable of breath-taking moments of brilliance, as was apparent last Saturday against Sunderland.
On the back of a disappointing and energy-sapping defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, one could have forgiven Arsenal for a sluggish and despondent display. On the contrary, they came flying out of the blocks and exhibited some of the best football they’ve played all season. 2-0 up and cruising, Tomas Rosicky then finished an outrageous move of one-touch passing, eerily similar to Jack Wilshere’s against Norwich earlier in the campaign.
The goal was indicative of exactly what Rosicky brings to this Arsenal team; neat and tidy on the ball, with the determination and ability to drive into the box and run in behind enemy lines. He certainly fits the Arsenal stereotype of being a short and creative midfielder – of which the Gunners have had dozens over the years – but it would be lazy to class them all as exactly the same player. Rosicky, in particular, brings a whole other dimension to the side, which is why news of a new contract being agreed is so encouraging.
Tactically, Mesut Özil has struggled since the loss of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey to injury. Their absence coinciding with his dip in form is, well, not coincidence at all. Özil, as we know, is a player that picks up the ball between the lines, glides forward into space and looks to slide passes through for on-rushing players into the box to finish. He, Ramsey and Walcott had begun to show glimpses of the kind of chemistry Walter White would envy, and it’s difficult for him to thrive when Olivier Giroud, for example, appears to be someone who prefers receiving the ball with his back to goal, rather than running in behind like his currently-crocked comrades.
In Özil’s absence, Rosicky took on the role as ‘the runner,’ leaving the likes of Wilshere and Santi Cazorla to link with Giroud and create opportunities for him behind the opposition defence. With neither Ramsey nor Walcott looking like returning any time soon, this makes Rosicky an invaluable asset to this Arsenal side.
But he’s an important player at the best of times, too. When available, Arsène Wenger almost always starts Rosicky in the big games, particularly at home. This year alone at the Emirates Stadium, he has started against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli which suggests his regular appearances against top opposition is no coincidence.
So why is this the case? What does Rosicky bring to the team that perhaps some of his other teammates don’t? Well, experience for one. Whilst it’s something of a minor tragedy that injuries robbed Arsenal of Rosicky in his supposed peak years, at 33, he still possesses a wealth of experience at both club and international level, which can only be helpful for the younger players in the squad. But it’s not only intangible qualities that make him a crucial member of the Arsenal squad – the nature of his play on the pitch is unique and fabulous to watch.
He presses and hounds his opponents when they’ve got the ball like a caged lion, which has been the cornerstone of the recent successes of Bayern and Barcelona, and something Arsenal simply don’t do enough. Whilst I appreciate the immense levels of stamina needed to employ such a tactic, when it’s done to them on such a regular occurrence, you wonder why the Gunners don’t do it themselves every week. Arsenal monopolise the ball, so surely should have more energy to chase and press than their opponents when possession is turned over.
Rosicky certainly appears to have no qualms in selflessly chasing down seemingly lost causes – his goal against Tottenham in the FA Cup being Exhibit A, here. The more pressure he applies, the more territorial advantage Arsenal gain, thus making him a crucial tactical asset. His surprisingly effective sliding tackles make him something of a fan’s favourite, too, such is his willingness to do the so-called dirty work.
Of course, Rosicky is not merely a glorified cross-country runner, he is arguably one of the most technically-gifted players in Europe. The Czech is renowned by fans and teammates alike for his unique ability to pass with the outside of his foot, a skill which apparently is dubbed ‘The Rosicky’ in Arsenal training sessions.
His critics will argue that he probably doesn’t score enough goals, which certainly isn’t unreasonable, but he’s unquestionably skilful, intelligent and adaptable, being able to play high up the pitch as a number ten, in a deeper-lying playmaking role, or indeed on either flank where he roams into dangerous attacking positions. It seems Rosicky is looking to make up for lost time and clearly Arsenal are keen to hold onto one of their most underrated assets.