Theo Walcott’s hat-trick against Blackpool on Saturday assured that the young winger would grab the majority of the headlines, and rightly so, but Arsenal’s demolition of Blackpool was far from a one-man show.
Pulling the strings quietly and with an elegance and vision which seemed to had vanished last season after 18 months robbed to injury was Tomas Rosicky, or ‘Little Mozart’ as he is affectionately known in his native Czech Republic.
Rosicky’s link play with Andrei Arshavin and Theo Walcott was a joy to behold and, regardless of the quality of opposition, the Arsenal number 7 gave a masterclass in the ability to find pockets of space between the midfield and defence.
Arsenal seem to have gathered a plethora of diminutive playmakers all wanting to play in the ‘hole’ behind a target man. It is a position Cesc Fabregas often finds himself pushed into as the season progresses, Arshavin would ideally love to play there, but Wenger prefers to use him on the left, and it is also the position Samir Nasri feels is his most natural.
Nasri auditioned well for the role at Anfield last weekend but the Frenchmen seemed to hold onto the ball for too long at times and, while his constant movement caused Liverpool problems, he often left Marouane Chamakh isolated against Jaime Carragher and Martin Skrtel.
Where Rosicky excelled on Saturday was in his ability to always receive the ball on the half-turn, ready to move the ball forward and always aware of his options. He also kept the play ticking over when he needed to and was efficient in his time on the ball, refusing to over-elaborate. With the likes of Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas and Arshavin at the club, there is certainly no better place for Jack Wilshere to learn the trade.
Rosicky has endured a difficult time since signing for Arsenal in 2006 to replace Robert Pires, who departed for Villarreal. With Arsenal playing a 4-4-2 formation, it meant that, instead of playing in a attacking central role, Rosicky had to adapt his game to play on the left side of midfield and contribute defensively as well as going forward. Replacing Pires was always going to be a difficult task and adapting to a new league and new position at the same time affected the Czech captain’s form.
There were glimpses of his potential during his first season including a 30 yard screamer against Hamburg and two excellent strikes against Liverpool in the FA Cup at Anfield. The first half of the 2007/2008 season saw the former Dortmund captain start to flourish in an Arsenal shirt and playing alongside his best friends at the club, Fabregas, Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini, the ‘Four Musketeers’ helped Arsenal make a real fight for the title.
However, Rosicky came off injured against Newcastle United in January 2008 with what seemed a routine hamstring injury and was left sidelined for the next 18 months. The injury was complex and at more than one point it seemed his career was on the line. After finally getting fit last season, Rosicky made 33 appearances for Arsenal and made a return to the Czech national team, however his form was erratic and it was rumoured he could be heading out of the Emirates this summer, despite signing a two year extension to his contract in January.
A full pre-season has given Rosicky a solid base to build from and it seems he is reaping the rewards. It may be premature to say he his back to his best but he was Arsenal’s best player at Anfield after coming off the bench in last weekend’s 1-1 draw and his performance against Blackpool will give Wenger a selection headache now that Fabregas has returned to fitness. That the Arsenal captain will come straight into the side is in no doubt, but Wenger may now be more inclined to play Fabregas in the deeper midfield role currently occupied by Wilshere, rather than ousting Rosicky.
Whatever Wenger decides to do, it is great to see Rosicky back fit and playing something like the kind of football which made him one of the best midfielders in Europe not so long ago.