Many happy returns of the day to the gifted Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, for whom the very best birthday present – even more than three points against Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates this afternoon – would be a whole year free of serious injury. Making barely 50 starts in three years was not the sort of Arsenal career that anyone envisaged when he moved to London from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2006 and there were times during last season when he felt he might never play again.
That was a ghastly period divided entirely between operations and rehabilitation after suffering a knee injury back in January 2008 against Newcastle. The latest setback for a player diagnosed by the Czech Republic's team doctor as having "an imbalance in muscle structure" – which meant some of them were much weaker than others – was far from the first but much the worst.
Even after returning for the traditional pre-season friendly at Barnet in July, he suffered the further frustration of a hamstring strain. At Eastlands last month, however, his goalscoring return to the Premier League was the happiest moment of a bad day for Arsenal.
Arsène Wenger admits to having rushed him back too fast in the past and will take care this time. But it is understandable that Rosicky, 29 today, is in a hurry to make up for lost time. "I think it's getting better and better," he said after playing for almost 70 minutes of Tuesday's Champions' League win over Olympiacos. "I need more games but it looks good and I'm happy I'm back in the team. Of course you miss these nights, and you miss the Premier League as well. I missed everything so it is good to be back."
When Wenger was being urged to sign players during the summer, one of the points he repeatedly made was that in Eduardo da Silva and Rosicky, Arsenal had the equivalent of two new signings. Both are now being reintegrated – Eduardo appeared as a substitute for Rosicky on Tuesday and made the opening goal for Robin van Persie – and the Czech captain believes that with a full squad there will be adequate quality and competition at the club.
"When you see how many offensive players we have got, you see we have many, many options," he said. "You saw Eduardo coming on, [Carlos] Vela coming and there is [Nicklas] Bendtner, [Theo] Walcott and Samir Nasri coming back too, so I think we have many options. The rest is up to the manager."
The return of Walcott, another player hugely frustrated by injury (though not as much as Wenger, who blames England for overplaying him in the summer) will present an interesting dilemna, as Rosicky has occupied the right flank in Arsenal's recent 4-2-3-1 formation. He could also play in the centre or on the left of that trio behind the main striker (normally Van Persie), although he might be unlikely to displace the current occupants Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin.
For the moment, he is more naturally suited to the right side than Bendtner and, if he can manage two games a week, it suits Arsenal well to start with him and then bring Eduardo on if opponents like Olympiacos prove particularly obdurate.
In the Greeks' case, it was more a matter of good fortune as they somehow survived for 78 minutes before the breakthrough came. Pleasingly, Arsenal kept playing their football and those wishing that a player 20 yards from goal might occasionally just look up and shoot were eventually confounded by two typical eye-of-the-needle goals.
Blackburn, typecast or not, are expected to provide a vigorous challenge, but Wenger's team beat them 4-0 twice last season, leaving little room for argument. Rosicky felt that Fulham offered a similar challenge last weekend in a game that he joined for the last 20 minutes as a substitute and he believes that victory there confirmed Arsenal can withstand a physical challenge these days.
"Fulham is not an easy place to go. They're a very physical side trying to go behind you and in the second half they tried to hit long balls as well, so it was a very good victory. I think it will be as always against Blackburn, they are a physical side. If we match them on the physical side then we are better footballing-wise.
"All these teams who have too much physical approach, if you do this you will beat them because we are a better footballing side. The victory in Fulham was a very good sign that we can cope with that, even though they had good chances."
Unsurprisingly, he is not keen to look too far forward, although now he is back playing, the subject of a new contract will soon be raised. "I spoke recently with the boss about that. We haven't started negotiations yet but we have spoken about something already so we will see." For now, a happy return indeed.Reuse content