The Hawthorns was the setting for the defining win of Arsenal’s 2011-12 Premier League campaign.
On the final day of last season, Arsenal travelled to West Brom knowing that a win would guarantee a top-four finish. What unfurled was an enthralling match which ended with Arsene Wenger clinging to his assistant Pat Rice as Arsenal emerged as the victors by the finest of margins.
Eleven months on, this game was eerily reminiscent of that crucial encounter. A spirited Arsenal managed to resist a late West Brom rally to secure three vital points. It was an afternoon of huge significance and equally sizable stress levels. Arsene Wenger could have been forgiven for seeking a hug from his new assistant, the stoic Steve Bould.
While there are still the best part of two months until the end of the season, Arsenal now find themselves back in the top four, and just a point behind neighbours Tottenham. Come the final day, Arsenal may look back on this as a hugely important moment in their season.
It’s no surprise that Tomas Rosicky was at the heart of the Gunners’ display, with two goals to his name. The Czech midfielder is fast earning a reputation as a man who flourishes under the intense spotlight provided by the end-of-season run-in.
Last season, Rosicky was absent for almost the entirety of the first half of the campaign. His return to the squad was initially unheralded. However, he scored his first league goal in almost two years in the 5-2 victory over Spurs that proved to be the season’s turning point, and went on to emerge as a hugely important figure in Arsenal’s subsequent resurgence.
This season tells a similar story. Rosicky underwent an operation after Euro 2012 that caused him to miss Arsenal’s difficult first half of the Premier League fixture list. However, since returning he has immediately resumed his role as a catalyst to the team's improvement. His energetic style adds urgency and pace to Arsenal’s attacking play, and his defensive commitment is invaluable.
Tomas Rosicky is a little like Wigan: as winter turns to spring he finds his form. The end of the season is a time when even the best players can crumble under the pressure—witness Robin van Persie’s run of nine games without a goal for Manchester United. Rosicky is different: he excels.
The "Little Mozart" was not the only individual who stood out for Arsenal at West Brom. They will also take heart from another commanding performance from Lukasz Fabianski and more encouraging signs from a revitalised Gervinho.
However, the major positive was Arsenal’s collective determination to see out the win. There was an unfamiliar steeliness about the Arsenal side, typified by Per Mertesacker’s extraordinary challenge where he appeared to make a tackle using his back.
The Gunners now have four wins on the spin, conceding just two goals in the process. In the battle for Champions League qualification, they have the momentum.
Crucially, they also have Tomas Rosicky.
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