For a player who didn't start any of Arsenal's first 30 games in a 38-game season, Tomas Rosicky had a surprisingly big impact on the 2012/13 campaign.
Just like last year, the Czech playmaker found fitness and form at just the right time - and was crucial to Arsenal’s securing of a Champions League place. If Rosicky’s performances coincided with an upturn in the team's displays in each of the last two campaigns, perhaps he also sums up Arsenal’s recent history as a whole.
"He has been constantly impressive and easy on the eye, but, primarily due to injury, hasn't been capable of succeeding over the course of a whole season"
He was the most expensive signing Arsenal made in 2006, the summer that marked the move to Emirates Stadium, and a new era in the Club's history. He has been constantly impressive and easy on the eye, but, primarily due to injury, hasn't been capable of succeeding over the course of a whole season. We have always been left wanting a little more.
Last season, Rosicky hit his stride in the spring - he was used as Arsenal’s central attacking midfielder, drifting left to dovetail with loanee Yossi Benayoun. With Theo Walcott staying high on the right, Arsenal offered creativity from one wing and directness from the other - and although the team have changed significantly in terms of personnel from last season, that concept remains familiar.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Rosicky dovetailed with Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard started the season playing the central playmaking role, but was later primarily used drifting inside from the left, a role he frequently played during his time in La Liga.
The passing combinations between Rosicky and Cazorla were very useful in the games against Manchester United and Queens Park Rangers, allowing Arsenal to hold the ball in dangerous positions. “I’m in the advanced position of the midfield three, looking to get between the opposition’s midfield and defence,” Rosicky said.
In both matches, Arsenal’s goal was scored by Walcott after diagonal balls in behind the defence - showing how Arsenal mixed possession with penetration. Against Manchester United, it was Rosicky who provided the assist.
The Czech international brought something important - tempo. When fielded wide, Rosicky can slow Arsenal’s passing by drifting inside to a central position, but he's an entirely different beast when fielded permanently in a central role.
He collects the ball from midfield and drives forward powerfully at the opposition, and possesses quick feet to receive the ball, turn away from a defender then pass smoothly to a team-mate. As discussed in April’s Eye For Detail, ball retention isn’t enough for Arsène Wenger - he demands passing that is also quick and ambitious.
Importantly - and unusually for an attacking midfielder - Rosicky also sets the tempo when his side don’t have the ball, too. Although famed for his through-balls rather than his defensive contribution, Arsenal fans have become accustomed to Rosicky’s constant slide tackles after he chases opponents back into his own half.
Rosicky considers that an important part of his job. “If I’m the highest one of the three midfielders, it means I’m the first to start the pressure,” he says. “When we lose the ball, we begin pressuring immediately. The three seconds afterwards are vital and I think we are all aware of that - when the opposition get possession, we're after them immediately.”
That was summed up by his defensive work against QPR, when he made six interceptions - no-one else on the pitch made more - in advanced midfield zones. Arsenal were able to win possession quickly, and although QPR threatened down the right wing, their midfield was unable to dominate and put consistent pressure on the visitors' back four.
Of course, such an energetic style of play is difficult for a man who has experienced so many injury setbacks over the years, and it's rare that Rosicky lasts 90 minutes, but he insists he doesn't cover any less ground. “The numbers are very similar,” he insists. “There's no difference between what I’m doing now and, let’s say, five years ago.”
Again, that statement could apply to Arsenal as a whole. Rosicky’s progress seems inextricably linked with that of his club - which is more than a coincidence, and evidence the Czech is one of Arsenal’s key players. With a contract until next summer, hopefully 2013/14 will be his best campaign yet.
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