Arsenal vs. Aston Villa: Tomas Rosicky Makes His Case for More Playing Time
Make no mistake, if you put Tomas Rosicky on the pitch, he will make every attempt to bomb forward in attack. That's just who he is, and that's exactly what he was doing on Sunday in Arsenal's fourth-round FA Cup fixture against Aston Villa.
Despite being penciled in as a holding midfielder—in the role Jack Wilshere occupied last season, and Mikel Arteta in the current campaign—Rosicky was most active in the final third.
With the way that Arsene Wenger's designated three central midfielders shift and rotate constantly, the Czech playmaker's decisions to join in on the attack did no disservice to the Arsenal defense. Given his willingness and desire to put in tackles a defender would be proud of (he's quite adept at the sliding challenge), you couldn't say he shirks his defensive responsibilities, either.
Aston Villa did launch a few counterattacks in the match, with Darren Bent's second goal the most memorable example, and Rosicky was often caught out too far up in the attacking third. But that's who he is as a player.
Players should be put in positions where they can thrive: Rosicky belongs as an attacking midfielder, not a more deep-lying option.
Given his recent uptick in form—Rosicky also started last weekend's pivotal Premier League fixture against Manchester United, taking the place of the injured Mikel Arteta in midfield, and was excellent—the former Borussia Dortmund man is making a serious case for more consistent playing time.
That Rosicky is even making a case for playing time is a story in and of itself.
He came to the club in the summer of 2006 heralded as one of the most dynamic and promising playmakers in European football. He was coming off a superb World Cup in Germany, where he single-handedly put the United States to bed with two excellent long-distance strikes. It looked like Arsenal wouldn't skip a beat in their search for another Pires (the French winger had left the club after the 2005-06 season).
Yet before his Arsenal career was ever allowed to truly take off, he was racked by a number of crippling injuries.
Rosicky missed most of the 2007-08 season and the entirety of the 2008-09 season due to a lengthy series of complications stemming from an initial hamstring tear. It was a cripplingly unfortunate turn of events that left Wenger "speechless" as to what had become of his former star signing.
The Arsenal No. 7 would return in time for the 2009-10 season, but looked a shell of his former self. No longer did he unleash searing drives from 25 yards out; no longer did his pace put even the quickest defenders under pressure.
He failed to cement consistent first-team action, leading to consistent rumors of his transfer away from the club.
Thus, the last two matches, in which Rosicky has returned to the dynamic and aggressive midfielder who once so captivated Arsenal fans upon his arrival, has been a long time coming. I couldn't be happier for the man for persevering through what must have been among the most trying periods of his entire life.
The power he once possessed in his dynamite right foot has since diminished, and his legs are nowhere near what they once were. But then, that is to be expected given the damage to his tendons. At 31, his best years are behind him. But that doesn't mean for a minute that he can't lend something in the way of quality to Arsenal.
What is most promising to any Gooner—and Wenger as well—is that an in-form Rosicky gives the Gunners depth in central midfield, particularly going forward in attack. With Aaron Ramsey's legs looking shot in recent weeks, that is a vital boon.
Fittingly enough, Rosicky was replaced on Sunday by Arteta, who will presumably take back his place alongside Alex Song in central midfield, meaning Rosicky will head to the bench.
But the Czech's displays in recent weeks have been enough to justify inclusion in the first team, perhaps in the place of Ramsey, whose form of late has been indifferent at best.
In the end, it's a feel-good story—that a player of Rosicky's considerable quality is nearing his best once more. He admitted that during the worst spells of what must have seemed an interminable convalescence, he contemplated quitting the game. Thankfully, that's all in the past—though it's the sort of mental trauma that never does leave your mind.
Lucky for us, he showed remarkable mental fortitude, and has retaken his place within the Arsenal side. If his form continues along this vein, I feel confident we'll see much more of him.
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