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.

Sometimes, Arsene Needs To Break His Own Rules

Stories are making the rounds this morning regarding the future of William Gallas. At 32, Gallas is more than two years past Arsene’s imaginary new contract threshold. As we all know, in the past, Arsene has refused to give multi-year contracts to players over the age of 30. However, in this case, Arsene needs to break his own rule.

There is no doubt that William Gallas has finally began to show the kind of form that made him a regular for Chelsea’s back-to-back title-winning sides five years ago. Gallas had originally emerged after an injury-laden debut season with the club as captain of the young 2007-08 side. His fiery temperament served him and the club well for the first half of the season, which saw him score match-tying goal in stoppage time against United and also the winner against Chelsea, both at the Emirates.

However, his temper finally caught up with him on a cold night in the midlands in February of 2008. I’m sure we all remember the incident and, I have to admit, that even to this day, I can’t even begin comprehend what he must have been thinking when he sat on the other side of the pitch as the penalty was being taken. Gallas retained the captaincy for some time but his removal as skipper was inevitable.

I thought that if Wenger removed the captaincy from him that he would implode even more and that he would need to be sold. In the meantime, there was the incident with the book and some bad press in France. But, following his removal from the captaincy, Gallas seemed to gain a second wind during the latter half of the 2008-09 season. It was quite unexpected and showed that Gallas was perhaps far more mature than many gave him credit for. The club’s defensive run from January on was a prime factor in Arsenal retaining its Champions League place for this season.

Gallas was further revitalized when Kolo Toure was sold and replaced with Thomas Vermaelen. The Gallas-Toure pairing never worked and something needed to be done. Toure, though I love him to death for all he did for the club, was not a true centre-half and Gallas was forced many times to compensate for this. But, since pairing him with a natural, left-footed centre-half, Gallas has been free to worry only about his job and we have seen in the last year that he is still more than equipped to do that job well.

Our steadiness in central defense this season is a huge factor in the club’s form over the first half of 2009-10. Vermaelen has been fantastic and he developed a solid partnership with Gallas from day one. That understanding has only increased as the two have started every Premier League match, all but the last Champions League group match, and the 3rd round FA Cup tie with West Ham. For years, the title-winners have always had this kind of steadiness in central defense, i.e. Terry/Carvalho and Ferdinand/Vidic, and we are finally seeing the benefits of this kind of consistency.

At this time last year, I thought that it was a given that Gallas would go on a free back to France at the end of his contract. However, it would be sheer lunacy at this point to not give Gallas a new, multi-year contract. Djourou’s long-term injury means he will have lost nearly a season of developmental time and, apparently, Senderos is not a real first-team option anymore.  Also, considering that Wenger just gave Tomas Rosicky, who is 29 and has been injured for almost two years, a new contract, it seems likely Gallas will probably hold out a bit since this will be his last chance at a big payday, but that Arsene will make a multi-year offer and he will accept.

In match news, as of 2:30pm GMT, the match against Bolton Wanderers is still on.

Is There Life Left in Silvestre?

Regular guest contributor, Ted Harwood, takes a look at Mikael Silvestre, following a solid performance against Hull City, and ponders his usefulness.

Mikaël Silvestre was perhaps a puzzling signing to many Gooners in the late summer of 2008.  He seemed to have everything in the “no” column as an Arsenal signing: 31 years of age, longtime stalwart (if that’s the right word; it’s probably not, maybe something more like “mercurial enigma”) at Manchester United, and was seen by many as injury-prone.  He was the first player since 1974 to move directly from United to Arsenal, and seemed to signal the end of a slow summer transfer window.

With Kolo Touré and William Gallas seemingly holding down the center of defense, and Gaël Clichy on the left, Wenger no doubt saw him as a squad player drafted in as much for his sage qualities as his abilities on the pitch.  Indeed, the Boss said “We have a strong squad, but a young squad, and Mikael’s versatility, experience and calibre will provide the extra depth we need to reinforce our challenge for honours this season.

His defensive adaptability will serve us well, and it’s a big plus that Mikael has top level experience and a great understanding of football in the Premier League.”  Fifteen months after his signing, Arsenal have called upon his experience nineteen times in all competitions, and the results, while mixed, have lately become more encouraging again.

The thing about Silvestre in his time at Inter, Manchester, and Arsenal, is that his play has always been seen as a little inconsistent.  This sporadic form makes Silvestre a slippery player to get a feel for, a characteristic that leads supporters more to disappointment than hope, sadly.  My United-supporting friends often complained about him and Wes Brown bumbling away at the back in 2005; the jury was perpetually out.

Silvestre’s time at Arsenal has followed this pattern as well, his first months marked by an own goal at Fehnerbahçe and criticism from Wenger following the 4-4 draw with Tottenham.  He featured in the 2-1 win versus United a couple of weeks following the Spurs match, an occasion which surely pleased him.  But after this run, he mostly faded into the background, playing only occasionally in the first team.

Silvestre was playing mainly in the reserves side this season until all kinds of bad voodoo started up at left-back.  Shaking off the rust, Silvestre had to slot into the first team following Traore’s injury at Anfield, and the worries filtered in from Goonerland.  How would a well-aged left back, one who had looked a little shaky at times despite good performances captaining the Carling Cup and Champions League sides, fare once given regular time in the XI?

Burnley was always going to be a good test.  In Chris Eagles, they possess a talented winger (and a former teammate of Silvestre’s), perhaps not the most technical, but a guy with pace who had given our defense a really tough time in the Carling Cup last year.  Silvestre did indeed struggle to keep up with the Burnley man, Eagles rifling a good shot off the post and pinning the Frenchman back in his own end, thus limiting any offensive contributions from the left back.  A third of Silvestre’s passes went astray.  Rumblings began around Goonerdom, the doomers fearing for our defense and for Manuel Almunia’s confidence.  No news from the physio room, and Hull City looming, Silvestre would pull on his boots again at the weekend.

Hull, however, possess no Chris Eagles.  Silvestre looked a new man, perhaps having worked out a few more kinks, shaken loose a few more cobwebs.  He was rampant, involved in attack, and holding down the left side with no problems.  He made three times as many passes as he had at Turf Moor, only a couple going astray, he was shooting, he was smiling.  For a fourth-choice left back, he looked great and comfortable, as he had captaining the young guns at Olympiacos earlier in the month.

Despite the mixed bag that has been Silvestre’s season, he is still a player with a lot of top-level Premier League experience, and every game he plays for the first team can only increase his confidence and form.  The impending return of both Clichy and Traore will see him return to reserve status, but I feel that a string of games, should it be necessary, will see Silvestre return to decent, if unspectactular, form.  He will never burn up the turf with sheer speed, but his wisdom is an asset as much as anything, and hopefully he can feature as needed in the FA cup and as injury cover, and keep offering good service to the Arsenal into the future.