For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been at all religious. My atheism was cemented by being singled out by the head master in secondary school assembly for being unable to hide my disdain during the “burning bush” story. It cost me a thousand word essay, which was thrown in the bin, unread. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that Arsenal is effectively my religion: the rituals, the gathering together, the fellow worshippers, the uniformity of purpose, the singing. Hell, we even have factions infighting and to cap it all, our own version of the devil up the Seven Sisters road! Through good times, bad times, young boy, middle aged, and of course into old age (I hope) it’s been the constant in my life. In the church of Arsenal, we are witnessing a phenomenal story unfolding: the resurrection of Czech international Tomáš Rosický. Right near Easter as well, which is handy when you need a headline 😉 .
Tomáš has been the subject of perhaps more ferocious debate amongst my group of mates, than any other Arsenal player over the last couple of years. Yes, we have agonised over Chamakh and Arshavin, trying in vain to understand which particular metaphorical brick wall they each hit. But Rosický has been especially debated, for the simple reason that there is a very loyal Gooner that sits one seat to the right of us in Block 1, who absolutely loathes the player, and has done for some time. In his eyes, Rosický can do no right. Every single pass goes astray. Every mix-up is his fault. Every run is to the wrong position. Every shot completely pathetic. “John” and Tomáš have suffered a complete relationship breakdown – irreconcilable differences.
“John” was not alone in having reservations about Rosický. But the rest of us have always tried to balance his vitriol, tried to stick up loyally for a player who has always had the ability, and has unquestionably produced the goods in the past. But in the background, when we all sat round the table with a pint, we could all see Little Mozart’s pained expression when yet another pass went astray, and recall a succession of below par performances. We had all concluded that the instruments in his orchestra really hadn’t been in tune for quite a while. My own personal straw that broke the camel’s back, was him being picked to play the “Cesc” role in the Carling Cup Final last year, giving a poor display and totally fluffing a very good chance to win the game at 1-1. After that, although I wouldn’t go so far as to directly criticise a player wearing the shirt, I lost faith in him, and thought the time had come to let him go to another club, to see if he could rebuild his career.
Back in the beginning, immediately after Tomáš joined us from Dortmund, he was an exciting player, who scored a few goals. He had a hunger for the ball; his movement was good about the pitch; he went forward, took people on and went past them. I think initially he was playing out wide, as Cesc was the playmaker in the middle. As I recall, he did quite well in his first season – was almost a regular, scored a few goals, and looked like he was fitting in. He started his second season quite well, then got a mysterious hamstring injury against Newcastle on 26th Jan 2008. The initial assessment was that Tomáš would be out for something like 3-4 weeks. As time went on, the reports of his return seemed to get longer each time you heard, to 2 months, 6 months, the season, etc. It became a bit of a standing joke for us in the pub, and of course tongues were set wagging. A strong rumour circulated that he was spending a lot of time back in Prague, and enjoying substances not usually counted as staple intake for a premiership footballer. It was even suggested the reasons Arsenal were publishing for Tomáš’s continued absence, weren’t necessarily the whole truth. It was rumoured that doctors had had difficulty getting urine samples for the standard random drug testing that goes on now in football: we had a laugh about this because a perfectly common view was that he was taking the piss out of the club. Seriously though, this added weight to the idea, because failure to give samples can lead to a “3 strikes and you’re out” ruling and apparently the club can deal with that internally with a 12 month ban. I’ll stress that none of this was ever confirmed – this is really pub gossip. I didn’t ever see anything like this in the papers. Of course the logic behind it is that it’s simply inconceivable it could have been a hamstring muscle injury for that long – it’s a relatively minor injury. Tomáš didn’t return to competitive first team action until 12th September 2009 against Man City, some 20 months later. Somewhat ridiculously, he was out much longer than Eduardo [a week short of 12 months], whose ankle needed to be rebuilt after a career threatening compound fracture and a dislocation…!
Since his return, until the end of last year, his first team chances were very limited. Obviously, Cesc was always first choice in the middle, with Walcott, Arshavin, Nasri or Gervinho on the wings. He didn’t get many chances to shine, and, when he was picked, he didn’t really take them. With this background of debate amongst our group, he’s been watched very closely, and it was true he was giving the ball away a lot, and constantly taking the wrong option. He looked lethargic and out of tune with his fellow players – sometimes you could see their frustration on the pitch in their body language, with things that he did. You could even sense an awkwardness sometimes, with even the basics: his body shape didn’t look right – he just didn’t look like he was addressing the ball properly. Quite often he would get the ball in a good position with a bit of space in front and 99 times out of a hundred, he’d cut back and make a neutral pass. His play had no cutting edge at all – a bit of an issue for an attacking player. I think a couple of times he gave the ball away which resulted in goals against us as well. The crowd hate that, especially the ones who look for scapegoats, and it gets highlighted (unfairly sometimes, in my opinion i.e. Ramsey) on Match of the Day by the extremely defence minded pundits they have on there. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the problem was, but clearly his confidence had completely disappeared.
I remember being very frustrated with him, after the Champions League game against Olympiacos. He was picked to captain the side, playing in the middle and he should have been the star man. He simply didn’t turn up, except for the toss up. He singularly failed to impress, giving the ball away, having hardly any influence on the game. After that game I remember thinking: if Rosický can’t dominate a game against this sort of opposition (no disrespect but he is an International Captain with 85 caps – they are ranked 40th in Europe) then what chance has he got of dominating a big Premiership or Champions League game? There were clear indications that Wenger was losing faith, his career appeared to be at rock bottom. I was disappointed as a Gooner as it really looked like a promising Arsenal career had fizzled out, and that he would be on his way in January or this summer.
It is quite difficult to believe the above as we analyse the position now: Rosický has arguably been our most consistent player for the last 6 weeks (barring Milan away when obviously the whole team had a ‘mare). He has made key contributions in 5 of the last 8 matches, including either being voted or seriously cosidered for Man of the Match in 3. In the last game, against Newcastle, I thought he was superb: he looked like a skilful forward player at the top of his game, playing with full confidence: his passing was spot on, his runs off the ball, his linking the play. He is even getting stuck in! Scoring the goal against Spurs, which he richly deserved, has given him a shot in the arm. I couldn’t believe I heard his name being chanted by the Red Section during the Newcastle game, and when he was substituted he got a standing ovation. This would have been unthinkable just 6 weeks ago, when his future at the club was openly being questioned by the majority of fans. I really don’t think many fans would have complained if he’d have been off-loaded in January. The simple fact is Tomáš Rosický has rediscovered his form, at exactly the right time. He has been the catalyst for a scintillating run that’s seen us beat the old enemy, Liverpool, AC Milan and Newcastle.
This upping of his game has occurred dangerously close to new contract negotiations. Over the years, working in central London, I have developed what most people find is quite an extreme level of cynicism. As soon as the two events combined, I certainly didn’t rule out they might be linked. It’s been done before – Adebayor hardly moved a muscle after his new contract took him into the big pay league – and I’m sure it will be done again. Judging by the quality of his performance against Newcastle – after the news broke that he’d signed a new deal – it does look like Rosický is playing for something other than just the money. Long may it continue, because he is now a crucial player for us in the run-in, playing in the “Cesc” creative role that no-one else in the club is suitable for. Aaron Ramsey (still young at 21) gave it a go, but is not best suited to that role: his movement linking the play isn’t as good – he doesn’t find the space as well as Rosický. He is more of a box to box player, and offers more defensively – he doesn’t half cover some ground – but I think he prefers to arrive later into the box in attacking situations. Maybe in a few years as he matures he could play in that position, but at the moment I think he needs to be back up for Song or Arteta in a more holding role.
Who takes the credit for the resurrection of Rosický? Well this is the crux of the matter. Many, many Arsenal fans would have binned Rosický a long while ago. I admit I lost faith in the player, as did most of our group. I missed the Newcastle game, unfortunately, but apparently “John” was adamant Rosicky wasn’t the best player on the pitch, and refused to accept he was even in the top 5 Arsenal players – you just can’t please some people! But there was one key person who stuck by him, who believed he had the skill, the belief and the desire to turn this situation round. A person who has been criticised for being too stubborn, for sticking by his players for too long, for not listening to the fans. You know who I’m talking about – it’s the manager, who is paid more money in a year than most of us reading this will earn in a lifetime. It’s his job to take those decisions, to motivate the players, to understand what makes them tick. A man who, as you know, if you’ve read one of these blogs before, I believe still has the ability to take this club forward, and deserves to be given the same chance to rebuild his reputation.
Mr Arsène Wenger, who is the best manager Arsenal Football Club has ever had – fact.
Wear Your Red & White Scarf With Pride.