25 January 2015

Tomáš Rosický, Arsenal legend? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Perhaps no sequence better sums up Tomáš Rosický than that which led to his sumptuous goal. After an innocuous pass that launches an attack deep in Brighton's defensive third, Rosický watches as Giroud's too-cute flick is scooped up, and he pounces on the Brighton defenders too-tame side pass, side-steps a clumsy tackle, and delivers a deft look-away pass to Giroud just inside the area. As three defenders converge (more or less) on Giroud, Rosický floats to the top of the area and awaits Giroud's well-weighted chip, which he coolly volleys home, slicing and swerving around a defender and under the keeper. It's the kind of sequence that Rosický has delivered time and time again—but has he done so often enough to earn a spot among Arsenal's legendary players? Could he enter the hallowed antiquity currently inhabited by the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, and Adams? Why not?

The aforementioned, of course, delivered unto us some of the most sublime football we would ever see, once-in-a-lifetime achievements, whether it be the Invincibles season, the titles, or the overarching style of play. That trinity—along with other luminaries such as Vieira, Pirès, and Seaman—presided over a period of dominance at Arsenal perhaps unmatched by any other group of players in Arsenal history. Rosický joined Arsenal in May 2006, at a time when Henry, Bergkamp, and Pirès were about on the verge of leaving the club for various reasons (Bergkamp retired and Pirès left under acrimonious circumstances, and Henry would decamp to Barcelona a year later). As such, Rosický offers one of the strongest links to Arsenal's most-recent period of glory, the one that casts a long shadow over every achievement to this day.

The contrast between the club's fortunes then and now—much as it is with Rosický—is stark. Signed in 2006, the 25-year old Rosický could have been the next Bergkamp or Brady, creating chance after chance after chance for those ahead of him, whether it would be Walcott or Adebayor, Giroud or Bendtner, van Persie or Reyes. Instead, injury after injury undermined Rosický, denying him a chance to appear in 113 games over the last nine years, with the first of them the most serious, a knee injury that knocked him out for more than year, during which he missed 69 games. How good might he have been had he not been laid low by that injury? 

We could look back over his career and wonder "what if?'. However, we can find ample wonder and the glory in Rosický. He's been a brilliant player and consummate team player during his entire time here, and the fact that he's delivered some magnificent moments is like icing on the cake. At this point, my own emotions override my more-rational side, and I have to gush. Effusively.

You want a hinky-jinky dribble, or do you want a lofted pass that travels half the length of the pitch? Perhaps you want to see a slide-tackle, coming in from behind, with a heel-hook to nick the ball? Do you want a cracking shot, or a deft little flick? Rosický does it all. If there's a black mark against him, it's in the fact that, during his time with the club, we struggled so mightily to win silverware. Let this be his will and testament—though far from his last.

Like the club and squad itself over the last decade or so, Rosický—Rozza, the little Mozart—has told a tale long on potential and just a bit short on promise. Passionate, deft, and determined, Rosický has delivered tantalizing moments of mastery in which he has transcended his opponents and the game itself. He's flirted with and occasionally consummated moments of pure footballing inspiration, daring those around him to rise to the challenge he's established. If you haven't already done so, go back and watch the clip.

To me, he embodies Arsenal, at least over the last nine or ten years. A player and a club, full of vast but unfulfilled, injury-marred potential. One way of looking at that is to rue the missed opportunities. Even as I typed that, I'll admit, I got a bit teary-eyed. Another way of looking at that—one that is more optimistic without being myopic—is to revel in the delirous achievements. With each goal that he's scored for Arsenal, he's celebrated with a passion and a pride that few others who have represented the club could match. 

It's all there—the passion, the technique, the understanding of the game—Rosický has it. The only element missing might be the trophies. To date, Rosický has only earned two, the 2013 Community Shield and the 2014 FA Cup. And that's precisely what makes him legend. Perhaps alone among those who have come and gone, Rosický has embodied Arsenal over the last decade, replete with all of the glories and frustrations that we—and he—have experienced. To see him dominate a game as he did against Brighton offers us a chance to enjoy an exquisite agony and ecstasy. It may not be enough to earn the Little Mozart a place in the pantheon, but it's far and away enough for me.