The commentator was exhilarated with Tomas Rosicky’s display in the game against United States of America. It was a performance worthy of praise. Two brilliant goals and a cracking effort of the crossbar. Arsene Wenger is a genius for signing Rosicky before the World Cup; else his price would have surely doubled, were the exact words of the commentator.
Little did I know it would be perfectly valid again after almost eight years, albeit in Wenger’s treatment of Rosicky.
A game was going on between Czech Republic and Netherlands, it was Euro 2004 time and a guy was flying into tackles, running up and down constantly. He had almost every attribute you look for in a central midfielder. Speed, tackling, shooting, passing; he almost had everything. He was up against Edgar Davids and yet managed to come out on top in that battle. Czechs won that game and in the next game against Greece, the player was absolutely amazing yet again. He struck a thunderous volley onto the crossbar and was lively throughout. Czechs lost but I became a big fan of this player. His name was Tomas Rosicky.
I heard about Tomas intermittently through reports and articles on the internet, with most praising his partnership with Lars Ricken, whom I believed was an absolutely exceptional player. Days went and Tomas arrived at the world cup on the back of a disastrous Borussia Dortmund season and speculation about his own future.
First game for Czechs was against the United States of America and I had by now begun to collect articles online on him. He was amazing and just then tragedy struck as Czechs who had made such a great start were plagued by injuries. Rosicky had to play further forward and it affected his game. He just wasn’t in the game against Italy and he had a couple of long rangers against Ghana, that was it for him in the tournament that promised so much.
I started following Arsenal following his move to the Premier League and the team played some great football! A game against Reading for example at the Madejski Stadium, where the tempo of the game was just too amazingly fast. His combination with Alex Hleb, be it against Liverpool where he scored two (first after a combinational play with Hleb) or the goal by Hleb at the Madejski, their chemistry was magical. However, not all was going great. He didn’t by his own admission, hadn’t had the ball enough. Also, he was more of an accelerator and not at all an exemplary passer.
That all changed slightly as he found his feet on the left hand side in 2007-08, which was sumptuous football at its best from Arsenal. His interchangeability with Hleb, his ability combine with Fabregas-Eduardo-Adebayor was just too good. It was a fixed pattern with Tomas finding either the support striker, who was coming deep (Emmanuel Adebayor mostly) and then Cesc Fabregas linking further up to finish off the move.
Defensively he was amazing as well. A game against Chelsea for example that season at the Emirates, he gave a solid display both defensively and offensively. All that changed however, that he was out for the majority of the second half of the season after being diagnosed with a mysterious injury, which was stated initially to be worthy of keeping him out for a few days and later few weeks only! Little did anyone know the injury was to last for almost an year, riddled with setbacks and unconfirmed diagnosis.
He himself later said that he read also every medical book that was there on the subject and it’s a testament to his character during the period that teammates spoke admirably about his attitude. Cesc Fabregas, spoke of how Rosicky was always cheerful during the entire time he was injured. He would arrive at the Colney, cheerful and optimistic always. He soon returned for pre-season and gave some amazing displays. A ruled out offside goal, a beautiful back-flip pass and then the drive for which he was known, everything appeared to be present even after the long lay-off. Then tragedy struck, as he tweaked his hamstring in training and was out for six weeks, just before the season was about to start. Fans started to voice their frustration.
“Time to admit that Rosicky will never be up to it, let him retire gracefully now,” Read one comment on Daily Mail after he suffered an injury setback.
Season progressed though with some good and mediocre performances, all out wide. Some of the games showed the promise he had exhibited. His outside of the foot pass from right wing to Fabregas, a brilliant long pass to Nicklas Bendtner against Standard Liege, good darting goal to inspire a comeback against Bolton; were just like the typical old Rosicky. He played well and I noticed a certain change in his game, more of adaptation. He had started to pass more and was less of a dribbler-runner that he was. Shots from distance also dried up. He tried to link the game more and defensively he started becoming more solid. Maybe with the likes of Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri as his competitors, he knew he had better chances if he became tactically more disciplined. Again, fans started getting on his back as he wasn’t flashy in his approach.
Sometimes, he played even though he wasn’t fit. Barcelona game away was one example, where it was touch and go for him right up till kickoff. Nasri played centrally and Rosicky played out wide. Arsene Wenger hasn’t made many mistakes in Rosicky’s management, but the kind of game Rosicky was playing post his return, this tactical misalignment didn’t get the best out of him. It was only in 2010/11 that Wenger started putting Rosicky centrally and Nasri wide, that both were able to hit their best form.2009/10 ended and chorus of shouts asking Rosicky to be sold started surfacing. Joe Cole had just been selected for the World Cup and he was a free agent in the summer. That’s when Arsene Wenger’s genius comes to the fore. He went against the sentiments of the ‘so called knowledgeable fans’ and kept Tomas at Arsenal.
2010/11 was one of the best seasons for Tomas. He started brightly in pre-season and was lively in all the games he played. One particular game against Celtic was just too good. His drilled corner to Jack Wilshere was one of the passes of the season from Arsenal’s context. However, in the very first game against Liverpool, Wenger started Emmanuel Eboue out wide on the right and benched Tomas, while Nasri played centrally. It was a cruel blow after the great pre-season he had. Eboue conjured up nothing and Tomas came on, and from then on Arsenal looked lively. He made the assist which made Pepe Reina push the ball into his own net.
Next game was at against Blackpool, and that was one perfect display. He created almost everything that Arsenal produced, by thwarting between Blackpool’s defensive and attacking line. Signal was clear. Rosicky had shifted to being more of a team player and his impetus was to develop his passing skills and stabilize the team. Roles varied as the season went by.
He was made the captain for Carling Cup game against Tottenham, which Arsenal won 4-1, thanks to his impressive display. All was not going smoothly though! He missed a penalty against Sunderland, which ultimately cost Arsenal two points. Later half of the season wasn’t that impressive, as fans singled him out owing to his less than impressive performances against Barcelona at Nou Camp and Birmingham in the Carling Cup final.
HE however, had 5 assists and 8 pre-assists and created very often clear-cut chances, which were mostly wasted by the likes of Arshavin and Fabregas. Rosicky put the former clean on goal at least five times, each time with a delightful pass (One against Bolton at home was voted by many as Arsenal’s pass of the season) only for him to miss.
Wenger again maintained how Rosicky was an important part of his plans by reasserting his faith in him, while most were unsure whether Rosicky was still good enough. However, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving, Tomas had a chance to be the leader he always wanted. Too often, his contribution was masked by the flashy nature of some of his team-mates’ performances. Tomas for example, was more solid and composed in the season opener of 2011/12 against Newcastle, as he played in a deeper role. Nasri was widely praised in the game against Liverpool, which followed the Newcastle game, for his play, when he did nothing of note as compared to Tomas’ performance.
However, Tomas initially struggled that season with Wenger playing him in a deeper role and then the likes of Aaron Ramsey sometimes taking the baton onto themselves for creating chances, evident in the 8-2 loss against Manchester United.
As season wore on, he got that continuity and started getting more recognition due to the evident side of his game. He scored against Tottenham and Milan, which made people feel he had just struck gold. Reality was he was almost on par with the level of such performances in the previous season, but people didn’t realise it due to the flashy nature of his team-mates’ performances and him not doing anything worth catching attention as such.
His international form also had a major impact on his performances. He was entirely entrusted with the qualification process for Euro 2012 and was the Czech captain, responsibilities he handled with great aplomb. He would go often for internationals, while coming back jaded and injured sometimes, resulting in selection problems for Wenger. Add to that, there was not strong name in the team and the wastefulness of Milan Baros, who almost single-handedly managed to force Czechs out of Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Rosicky had to play in a team surrounded by mediocre players (except Plasil and Cech maybe) and still had to take the team forward. It took a toll on him physically and mentally, which ultimately culminated with the injury he was carrying until the start of the Euros. He still played and missed the major part of 2012/13 season due to aggravation of the injury.
Michel Bilek would play Tomas for long periods even in friendlies and Tomas’ body isn’t young enough to cope with three games in seven days, with the mix of travel and mental fatigue added. He also had to do a lot of running as he was the only creative outlet most times, with Plasil playing deeper. With full focus currently on his form at Arsenal, it isn’t a coincidence that he has been able to wriggle free of any injury related problems he had earlier faced.
Tomas has become tactically an exceptional player now days. Not that he is Sergio Busquets but he brings a good balance to the team. If he sees someone more creative than him, he lets him do the talking and supplements him. Play him deep and he won’t give you any creative contribution. He gets too worried with the defensive duties and his game is about causing problems for the opposition in the upper half of the field with the burst of pace and ability to pick the pass. Czechs tried him in that deeper role against Russia in Euro 2012 and failed miserably as he couldn’t cause any damage.
Same with Arsenal when Wenger tried him in a deeper role, initially in 2011/12 and initially in 2013/14, against the likes of Fulham and Fenerbahce. He will give you full commitment and defensive discipline, but his main attribute is not defensive work so he isn’t the player he actually is when you play him deep. Play him wide and you get more of a supplementary role from him, with more contribution towards bringing balance to the team. That’s the reason why his most effective performances in an Arsenal shirt have been when he has played centrally.
He has also started quite a few games for Arsenal and should be considered a starter. Many felt he won’t start this season as the likes of Ozil have come in. However, Wenger preferred him over the likes of Arshavin who was having a great season with some seventeen odd assists! At 33, naturally, he won’t be able to play every game and that’s the reason Wenger subs him off even after brilliant games for preserving him.
It’s another reason for the so called ‘knowall pundits’ to stop giving their armchair comments and trust in Wenger’s judgment. Any other manager would have sold Rosicky off by now after the constant criticism and injury problems. Wenger on the other hand, has carefully nurtured and turned him into a brilliant player from all aspects. His game has developed a great deal ever since that injury and hgue credit goes to Arsene for that.
It’s a lesson for all the fans who claim to know it all. Back in 2011/12 when Arsenal lost to United, many fans criticized Tomas’ commitment because apparently he didn’t look back after Rooney scored a free-kick when he was standing as a part of the blocking wall. People doubted his commitment to the cause and stated that should have looked at Robin van Persie who made it a point to ‘verbally express’ his commitment to the cause. One comment read
“This guy should be sold. SELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Makes me mad that he gets paid to play football. “
These people were made to look fools now that Tomas has been proved a loyal servant and we all know what happened to Van Persie. In a world where the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong, get recognition for their dubious commitment to the cause, which they express verbally, the likes of Tomas are a rare breed. They don’t say one thing and act in another way. It’s up to the fans to understand a player like Tomas and most importantly, trust Wenger’s judgment as it has been proved for the umpteenth time that he knows more than most if not all Armchair pundits.
My name is Rohit Prabhudesai and I have been an Arsenal fan since 2006. Pretty much a huge fan of Wenger and Rosicky, right from the time I started following. Very much interested in the financial, tactical and the man-management aspects of the club. I hold a pro-Wenger stance always and am of the very few who believe Arsenal should have ended their trophy drought long back if not for bad luck. In Arsene We Trust!