The “Real” Tomas Rosicky

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un5nLLul-s4]

Yes, the main story of Saturday’s 6-nil win over Blackpool was Theo’s hat-trick. But, what seems to be lost in the hoopla, is the absolutely sterling performance of Tomas Rosicky. I had been hoping for one of those “<player> vs. <opposition>” videos to pop up on You Tube and now it finally has done.

Rosicky was either at the start or at the heart of nearly everything Arsenal did well on Saturday. Right from the kick-off, he propelled the team forward whether it was dropping ball after ball into space or picking it up in his own half and, basically, doing one of the best Fabregas impersonations I’ve seen in a long while.

He made the perfectly-placed pass to Arshavin, who set up the opening goal. He set Walcott free nearly half-a-dozen times including the move that led to a great save on Arshavin’s half-volley. He also threaded the ball perfectly between two defenders for Chamakh, who subsequently drew the penalty that saw Arsenal go up 2-nil and Blackpool down to ten men. He played the ball to Sagna down the right that led to Diaby’s goal. He played the ball into space for Arshavin, who delivered a sitter missed by Chamakh. He also made a fantastic pass after turning to Vela making a run into the box.

Every one of these balls were just glorious to watch. Rosicky put on the central midfield “masterclass” that David Pleat, and only David Pleat, thought Nasri had done at Anfield. Now, I am of course mindful that he was playing much of the match against a 10-man relegation favorite and therefore had more space than usual. But, nevertheless… Rosicky’s vision, creativity, and deftness of touch appears to have fully returned following his losing 18 months due to injury in what should be his prime.

His injury problems have been so consistent that even though he’s beginning his fifth year at the club, we’ve never seen him really hit top gear for any period of time. It remains to be seen whether or not he is really over the recurring muscle injuries, but he has said he feels better than ever after having his first full preseason in years. A good sign is that Rosicky not only stood around dropping ball after ball for his teammates to run onto, but he also went in hard, and won, a number of 50-50s in the center of midfield. Furthermore, his distribution from central midfield was fantastic as he worked every inch of the middle and attacking thirds on Saturday.

Of course, Rosicky is likely to play the majority of his time on the pitch this season out wide, but Saturday was a reminder of just how devastating a player he can be in the middle when fully healthy and match-fit. The confidence the Boss has in him was fully evident when he was offered a contract extension this past January despite having been injured for most of the previous 24 months.

I remember being really excited about the club signing Rosicky. But we have only seen glimpses of the “real” Rosicky-the one who scored that unbelievable Champions League goal, the one who scored the goal at Anfield, etc…. So, while we look forward to the emergence of Theo, Jack, and some of the other young players, I am also looking forward this season to the emergence of the “real” Tomas Rosicky.

Yes, We Need Experience, But…

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… we also need the kind of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm that was shown by Aaron Ramsey following his equalizer at Upton Park. The 19-year old ran straight into the 500 traveling Arsenal supporters followed by Carlos Vela to celebrate his superbly taken equalizer.

Slightly older players like van Persie and Eduardo enthusiastically celebrate goals but not like Ramsey today or, for that matter, Cesc. Now, that’s NOT a criticism… young players that have been at the club for a while have been forced to grow-up quickly under Arsene Wenger. And that is necessary. But it’s also nice to see goals celebrated in the manner of Freddie Ljungberg in his first few seasons at the club.

Now, on to the match… By the hour-mark, it certainly looked to be one of those days when Arsenal just fail to find a final ball to break down a 10-man defense. Arsene obviously set out to win the match having selected both Gallas and Vermaelen and saying after the match that “the FA Cup matters.”

However, the two youngsters, Wilshere and Merida, both had disappointing matches overall. Obviously, the substitutions of Nasri and Diaby in their place changed the match. They began to take control of the match like they hadn’t since the 20-minute mark.

Ramsey and Eduardo goals made the difference-both assisted by Carlos Vela, the latter two switching positions at half-time. For the first 15 minutes of the second-half, Vela failed to make anything happen when he had possession out wide on the left, and Eduardo continued to look largely ineffective.

But, thanks to the substitutions, the increased pressure from the middle allowed Vela more space and more options when he got the ball out wide and he took advantage of it, both by putting in a touchline cross and coming inside.

We all want to see Eduardo get some goals and get his confidence back and, after seeing the header live, I thought, “What a fantastic header!” But the more I see the replays from the reverse angle, the more it seems that Eduardo headed but it deflected a bit off Upson’s head as well.

That’s not to take anything away from a great goal. He did beat Upson to the ball and get a good head on it. I just hope he doesn’t realize there was even the slightest deflection so he can take the confidence he deserves from the goal. But, as Arsene said after the match, “In every game, he gets better.”

Alexandre Song did his usual job and, after the match, Arsene complemented the midfielder by saying, “In the system we play, he is just the ideal player to play in front of the defense.” But he also acknowledged that Arsenal “will have to find a new balance” when he leaves this coming week for the African Cup of Nations.

With the replacement of experience for youth, Song had more confidence to get forward and get an equalizer. He was at the heart of Arsenal’s best pre-goal move only being kept out in the end by the second of Green’s great double-save.

Recently, we’ve seen Arsene make some key, game-changing substitutions. I, generally, consider Wenger to be a bit conservative and slow with substitutions. To me, he has seemed to make substitutions far too late in a match to have any real consequence. It’s nice to see him being more proactive when it comes to making changes and it’s even nicer to reap the benefits.

Following the dropped points in our last visit to Upton Park, the result was especially satisfying. Arsenal are the kind of side that needs to exorcise their demons for confidence to be at its fullest and they did that by getting through at the ground where they had conceded a late 2-goal lead just over two months ago. The fourth-round draw has provided us with a trip to Stoke City in three weeks’ time.

In other team news looking forward to Wednesday’s match with Bolton, Wenger said that Arshavin “should be available on Wednesday night,” and

Denilson would face fitness tests on Monday and Tuesday. However, when asked about Walcott’s return from another rib injury, he just said, “I don’t know.” He went on to say that he hopes it will be less than a month.

Activity during this window seems likely, for when asked about the transfer window, Wenger said, “I have the money, I have the desire, but I have not the player.” Wenger has acknowledged that we are “short” in options up top and he looks relatively eager to bring someone in… if he can find the right player at the right price, of course.

Well, that’s it… I could talk about the boot to Diaby’s shoulder or the overall cunt-ness of Diamanti, but this piece is already long enough. On to Wednesday!!!

NOW It’s A Merry Christmas!!!

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Arsenal made a statement on Sunday afternoon. This club just will not fade away or go crawl under a rock like many expected after the disappointing home defeat to Chelsea. They refused to believe that the 2009-10 Premier League season had become a two-horse race, if it already wasn’t before. Despite losing their best striker, and with their best midfielder just barely making the bench, Arsenal came into a crucial league fixture against a team with whom they were level on points but ahead of in third place on goal differential. This was the mindset going into Arsenal’s sort-of Boxing Day match.

Aston Villa was at pretty much full strength, hadn’t conceded a goal in five matches, hadn’t lost a match since the beginning of November, and had already beaten Chelsea, Liverpool, and United, the latter two away. That run had drawn them level on points with an Arsenal side that had won 3 of 4 since the Chelsea match. Yet it had been almost 10 years since Arsenal last lost their Boxing Day/post-Christmas fixture, while Villa has historically struggled after the holiday. And did I mention that Arsenal have never beaten Aston Villa at the Emirates?

On paper, it looked like just the kind of match where Arsenal could be found wanting. Some accounts have characterized the first half as less-than-entertaining, but I thought the play was quick and open and both teams created chances. Eduardo continues to make nice touches inside and around the box, but his finishing is yet to catch up with him. If he wasn’t getting into scoring positions, I would be more worried. He is suffering from a severe lack of confidence that can only be reversed by scoring goals, which means playing time. Diaby, Denilson, and Song did a great job in midfield of shutting down Villa’s attack, which only threatened for a few minutes in the first half when they launched balls into the box.

Quotes from Wenger and some analyses suggest that Arsenal were in the ascendancy when Fabregas came on, but having re-watched the second half, the midfield was struggling in the first 10-15 minutes after the break. Attacks were breaking down in the middle third due to misplaced passes, a few coming from Denilson. He was finally taken off for Fabregas. That is the moment the match changed.

Arsenal immediately looked more threatening and were able to get the ball deep into the attacking third. Fabregas’s free-kick was a stunner; it takes something special to not even give Brad Friedel a chance. After that, Arsenal kept on pushing. As Villa were forced to chase the match, a horrible pass by Milner followed by a perfect, long diagonal ball from Traore, whom had quite probably his best match from a defensive perspective. His pass released Walcott, who found Fabregas for a great finish and the second goal.

Was it worth it? If Fabregas now misses two to three weeks, was bringing him on worth the three points. Arsene believes so, and so do I. You have to win the match you are playing, not matches two weeks from now. Also, the match with Villa was a six-pointer. This match HAD to be won. And it was, by Arsenal’s genuine match-winner, Cesc Fabregas. Goals 10 and 11 for the season sunk Villa and put Arsenal into second place, if only for a few hours. Superlatives describing Cesc are flooding the web as we speak, and I don’t need to add to them. Just consider that he is on pace to end the season with 20 goals and 22 assists, something which hasn’t been done since Henry in 2003-04.

This Arsenal team is not going to willingly go away and leave the title race to United and Chelsea. It’s also not going to prove 99% of football pundits right. Instead, it will fight on. It will need to. With Cesc facing a brief lay-off, Denilson aggravating his back injury, and Song about to leave for Africa after two more matches, we will conceivably be playing an entire second-string midfield for much of January. For me, that means Diaby, Ramsey and possibly moving Nasri back into midfield. However Arsene works it, the entire squad will be needed to get through the next couple of weeks.

But the foundation has been built this December. Looking at the big picture, one has to wonder whether Arsenal can really win the league title with van Persie out for the rest of the season. But football works on a game-by-game basis and, like Arsene, I believe the hunger is there. I also believe that the team spirit is there. These were the two intangibles which were missing last season. Chelsea will soon be facing the loss of Drogba and others for the ANC and United won’t be back at full-strength any time soon. If Arsenal win their game-in-hand on January 6th, home to Bolton, we will pull within one point of the leaders. That was inconceivable only 3 weeks ago.

Also, enjoy this cameraphone video of Cesc’s free-kick:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRt00_Z5GMQ]