11 September 2013

With Rosický injured, will Özil supplant him earlier than planned?

Tomáš Rosický was subbed off during the Czech Republic's match against Italy in the 38th minute, suffering a thigh strain. Details are still forthcoming, but it's unlikely that this was merely a preventative or cautionary move as the Czech sat in 4th place in its Group,
behind Italy, Bulgaria, and Denmark and needed to take at point, if not all three, to keep its hopes of World Cup qualification alive. Had Rosický stayed on the pitch for a full 90', the Czechs might have fared a bit better than losing 2-1.While he seems to be the only Gunner to have been laid low last night, it's the kind of knock that a 32-year old with a history of injuries can ill-afford, especially with a shiny, new, £42.5m attacking midfielder looking to find his place on the pitch.

I'm as excited as anyone to see Özil do for us what he's done for Germany (such as scoring and assisting, as he did on Tuesday) and for Real Madrid, but I also have some mixed emotions, as Rosický has long been one of my sentimental favorites. Maybe it's my own torn ACL talking, but I sympathize with guys who suffer injuries that sap their strength and their skill. I've talked of my respect for Rosický before, here and here, for those curious to read. In short, instead of looking back on and celebrating a glorious career, all of us—perhaps even the man himself—feel a tint of regret as we ponder what might have been. This is, however, a bit harsh as Rosický has had more than a few scintillating moments and is still more than capable of turning a game on its head. Witness, as just the most recent example, his nifty pass to Walcott that led to the assist on Giroud's goal against Tottenham last weekend. His intelligence on the pitch shows him immediately running to the far post. Even more vital from my point of view is his celebration after Giroud scored. While less epic than his celebration after scoring himself against Tottenham in February, it's clear that he's a true Gunner at heart. Instead of coming over to celebrate with Giroud, Rosický curled around in front of the Spurs fans to pump his fist in their direction a few times (a fan posted a cell-phone video of it, but I can't seem to find it). I'll repost if I can.

While Rosický may suffer a bit in comparison to Özil when it comes to passing (and he's certainly no slouch there), one area where he may outstrip our new addition is in pressing and disrupting opponents' counters. His work-rate in this area is a sight to behold, and just as important as his creativity is his willingness to go for a tackle or interception to break up an attack before it can develop. Harassing opponents' midfielders and defenders has been a calling-card of his, one that is frequently outshone by his skill and flair on the ball. As with the pass to Walcott mentioned above, his contributions go beyond the scoresheet or the stats, and I don't think there are many players who can match him for heart, not to mention skill. Between his contract situation and Özil's arrival, I worry that he may be further marginalized. I want him to end his career at Arsenal, and I won't even hedge that with a "if the price is right". If we can carry Squillaci, Chamakh, and others year after year after year, we can certainly afford to treat Rosický with the respect he deserves. By all accounts, he is a true professional and exudes nothing but class on and off the pitch.

With Özil sure to compete with him for playing time, Rosický may have to settle for a diminished role. Then again, as we look to compete across four competitions (Prem, league cup, FA Cup, Champions League), the two of them could forge a powerful rotation and make mincemeat of opposing defenses. At the risk of looking too far beyond the season that still lies ahead, I wholeheartedly hope he is re-signed (big difference-maker, that hyphen there). Further, I hope we see him at Arsenal for years to come, as a player and as a coach. I'm willing to bet that, as well as the little Maestro can orchestrate on the pitch, he'll be equally as good at it from the sideline. That, however, is a sight I'm willing to wait a few more years to see as Rosický has more than a season or two left in those legs.