02 February 2016

For those who ever doubted that Tomáš Rosický is an Arsenal legend...

Picture the scene: we're up 2-1, clinging tenuously to a lead against Burnley with twenty minutes to play. Arsène makes his customary substitutions, sending on Arteta, Rosický, and Walcott for Coquelin, Iwobi, and Alexis—some cagey veterans to see out a tetchy match. However, tragedy struck almost as soon as Rosický came on; according to Arsène, it was just minutes after Rosický came on that the Little Mozart, who had waited all season to play after signing a new contract last spring, suffered an injury that might see the sun set on his Arsenal career. It's how Rosický responded to what must have been a heartbreaking twinge.

A legend gets his due.
I'll let Arsène take it from here:
I told him straight away after half-time to warm up. I observed him; he’s very conscientious, Tomáš; he did sprint and sprint and sprint. He comes on; after three minutes, he got the injury. I looked at him and thought: "Tomáš, you do not run properly" because he didn’t lift his legs, and he lost some balls. I was amazed because he is at the top level technically. He told me after the game that he did it [the injury] straight away. He said, "I stayed on because you couldn’t change anymore”.
That just about says it all, but for those unclear, a 35-year old limped around the pitch for more than 20 minutes because the alternative was to go a man down because his club had no subs left to make. What might have happened had Rosický left the pitch? Could we have held Burnley off while down a man? It's possible, maybe even probable, but rather than run that risk, Rosický put his body—perhaps even the remainder of his career—on the line. Three minutes into a return towards he had worked and waited since the end of last season, and he felt in his leg if not his heart that it had all fallen apart before he could even break a sweat, maybe before he could even touch the ball.

Instead of exposing his club to the possibility of crashing out of the FA Cup, ending a potentially historic chance at winning a third straight, he plodded on without complaint. Somehow, he made it through to the end, including six excruciating minutes of stoppage time, and did as much as he could to see us through to the next round. Who knows when we'll see him return? At a risk of sounding melodramatic, this might turn out to be his last appearance for Arsenal. He swallowed his pride many times during the 2014-15 campaign and signed a new one-year deal in May—but with his age and injuries eroding his one-scintillating skills—this "devastating" news (Arsène's word; mine as well) could spell the end.

He may not ever be a legend on a level with the holy triumvirate of Henry, Bergkamp, and Adams; he might not even crack the top 20, not, at least by statistics. However, this setback speaks volumes about his passion, his commitment, his dedication. A week after a more-established legend spoke spiteful words about his time at Arsenal, Rosický showed that he understands more than many what this club means. He could have left last summer for an larger role if not a larger contract, but he stayed. At his first chance at playing since signing that contract...this.

Yes, his time at the club may be marked more by what should have been rather than what was. However, he embodies Arsenal in many ways over the last eleven years: more than a decade of flirtations with brilliance, moments of magic, but long stretches of frustration. For his sacrifice on Saturday, for his screamer against Tottenham, for his spirit, for so many other memories, he's a legend, even if only in my personal pantheon.

If he doesn't get a testimonial, well, I won't know what to think...