It was the summer of 2006 and much was changing at Arsenal. Robért Píres had moved on to Villarreal after failing to agree a contract extension with the club. There had been much speculation about how his early, enforced substitution in the losing Champions League final had affected his decision, but attention soon turned to his replacement.
German club Borussia Dortmund had been in financial trouble for some time now, and after a deal to sell Tomas Rosicky to Atletico Madrid fell through, Arsenal swooped in. Signed originally for a Bundesliga record £18 million fee, Rosicky was offered to Arsenal at a cut price £4 million, rising to £7 million depending on appearances.
A stylish midfield orchestrator with impressive technical ability, Rosicky looked a readymade Arsenal player. A spectacular cameo at World Cup 2006 only left eager Arsenal fans drooling in anticipation. Two goals against the United States in the Czech Republic's opening match, one of which was a thunderous 35-yarder left no doubt about his talents – this was a player at the top of his game.
Indeed, the boy once known as 'Dumpling' wasn't any bit part player plucked from obscurity by Arsène Wenger, as the French manager is wont to do at times. Rosicky was pulling the strings in midfield for both club and country, and in fact the Dortmund team at that time was more or less built around his talents, just as how the Arsenal team was built around its star player Thierry Henry. His importance to the German club had earned him another nickname, one that was altogether much more agreeable and in homage to his deadly talent – 'Little Mozart'.
But the question remained, how would Tomas Rosicky fit into the Arsenal team. Would he be able to fill in the large void left by Bobby Píres both on the pitch and in the hearts of Arsenal fans? The respect he had gained at Borussia Dortmund would no doubt help him integrate into one of England's biggest teams, but from then on he would be judged solely on his performances.
His first season at the club saw him played out of position on the left of midfield, in a typical 4-4-2 formation. Cesc Fabregas was pulling the strings in the centre of midfield, backed up by the defensive steel of Gilberto Silva, so Rosicky was shifted to the left while Aliaksandr Hleb took up position on the right wing. 6 goals from 37 games, including two goals against Liverpool in the FA Cup was a handy return for the Czech maestro. Arsenal though crashed out of Europe in the Round of 16, a year after that bitter loss to Barcelona in the final. The team also finished 4th in the Premier League yet again, behind Liverpool only on goal difference.
The 2007/08 season saw much of the same, with Rosicky operating mainly on the left, chipping in with 7 goals in 24 seasons. However, his season was cruelly cut short within the first month of January. Starting against Newcastle in the FA Cup on January 26, Rosicky limped off after only nine minutes on the pitch with a suspected hamstring tear. Arsenal managed to win the tie in his absence, with the 3-0 result helping to ease the pain after the capitulation to Tottenham in midweek.
The prognosis right after the game seemed innocent enough, with Arsène Wenger insisting the midfielder would return "in days, not weeks". However, it was soon discovered that Rosicky had completely ruptured his knee tendons, which had come loose from his hamstrings. The injury nightmare continued to drag on as Rosicky himself revealed the injury had doctors around Europe baffled.
The injury itself saw Rosicky ruled out for Euro 2008 and the entire 2008/09 season. Wenger was on record stating that "nobody at the club can tell me whether he'll be back... nobody knows with him". Rosicky himself seemed frustrated at his slow recovery, comparing it to team mate Eduardo's relatively straightforward improvements after his horror injury. He even admitted to fearing his footballing career was over at one point.
Thankfully, after a frustrating 18 months on the sidelines, Tomas Rosicky finally made his long awaited return to full-time training in May 2009. There was still time for one more injury setback as another hamstring strain saw him delay his competitive comeback till September. The Czech playmaker finally made his return as a goalscoring substitute in a 4-2 defeat away to Manchester City.
Believing that the worse was behind him, Rosicky signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal at the start of 2010, stating "I feel it speaks volumes about the club's belief in me for this to be signed, and I truly believe I have a lot left to offer the club, my team-mates and all the supporters."
However, one cannot help but be concerned that this long injury layoff has affected Rosicky in some way. Gone is the dynamism of the 25 year old signed by Arsenal in 2006. Five years on, it can be argued that he is not quite the same player. Rosicky's impact has been limited, his performances on the pitch muted at times. He still has lots to offer the team of course, his experience is invaluable to the younger players like Jack Wilshere and his return has boosted Arsenal's squad depth in midfield.
Nevertheless, gone are the long-range stunners that used to be such a devastating weapon from his right boot. The goals have dried up to such an extent that his headed opener against Leyton Orient in February was actually his first in 13 months. First came bemusement and astonishment that his flicked header had actually bulged the net, and then came the elation and relief from a player that had once doubted he'd have the chance to ever savour another goal for the Arsenal.
So, will Rosicky ever shake off his injury demons and reclaim a first team spot in the Arsenal squad? With the emergence of wise-beyond-his-years Jack Wilshere and the consistency of twinkle-toed Samir Nasri, that may prove a daunting task. Yet, the signs seem promising. While some impatient fans may declare that he is now officially over the hill, one thing you can say about Rosicky is he never stops trying. While he has the tendency to drift in and out of games of late, this is to be expected from a player who has just returned to first team action after countless injury setbacks. It takes time for the body to get used to the rigours of top class football, and the English game is certainly not getting any slower.
In fact, the second leg against Leyton Orient showed just that. Latching onto a through ball, Rosicky drove powerfully to the byline, fending off his marker before cutting the ball back perfectly. Team mate Marouane Chamakh was left with the relatively simple task of knocking the ball past the hapless Leyton Orient keeper and the rout was on. The dedication to the cause was plain to see. Further cameos against Sunderland and Manchester United of late, as well as a starting role against Barcelona at the Nou Camp show that he is starting to get back to full fitness.
It may just be a matter of time before we see Tomas Rosicky turn it on for Arsenal again on the pitch. As long as he gets game time and works hard in training, the club might just rediscover a potentially deadly weapon in its arsenal.
This article is dedicated to Ally from Belgium and her blind love for all things Rosa.
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