By Chris Jenkins (@ByChrisJenkins)
Let’s face it: Sustained, consistent effort hasn’t exactly been the calling card of this year’s Arsenal squad.
That’s what made Tomas Rosicky’s critical second-half goal against West Brom so remarkable.
How many first halves has this team sleepwalked through, only to get a too-little, too-late wake-up call in the second half?
With the possible exception of Jack Wilshere, who (when healthy) actually needs to learn how to control his boundless enthusiasm to avoid trouble with the referees, it’s a team prone to sustained flat periods of play.
Even their best player this season, Santi Cazorla, tends to get lost in the shuffle at times – although that could be a sign that he’s struggling to adjust to his first time through a physically demanding full Premier League season, rather than a sign that his effort is lacking.
Then came Rosicky, of all people, to remind us what extra effort looks like – and the difference it can make.
Having already scored in the first half to give the Gunners a 1-0 lead, Rosicky had another golden scoring chance fall to his feet in the 49th minute and fired it toward the goal – only to have Ben Foster come up with a pretty good save.
Typical Arsenal, right? Great scoring chance fizzles out, player sulks away with slumped shoulders, tension and pressure continue to mount, and so on.
Nope. Not this time. The ball bounced right back to Rosicky, and he smashed it into the back of the goal for a 2-1 lead.
Should a player at a top-level Premier League team score that goal 10 times out of 10? Sure.
But do they? Nope.
It was a great moment for the 32-year-old Czech international, a player who hasn’t been consistent in his time at Arsenal but who absolutely has the technical skills required to control a match in midfield when he’s at his best – which he certainly was against West Brom.
It wasn’t that easy, though. It never is.
Per Mertesacker got sent off in the 70th minute for a clumsy tackle in the box and West Brom converted the penalty.
Then came 20 minutes of pure sports agony as West Brom barely gave up the ball the rest of the way, botching scoring chance after scoring chance as Arsenal fans around the world tried to strike a balance between watching the match and covering their eyes.
The equalizer never came, though, and the Gunners somehow high-tailed it out of town with three points in their back pocket. With Tottenham now sputtering and playing without injured star Gareth Bale, fourth place somehow still looks like a realistic possibility.
Now comes news that Wilshere and Theo Walcott might return from injury for Saturday’s game against Norwich. If true, that’s some serious star power for Arsene Wenger to harness in the final stretch of the season.
But no matter what Jack and Theo do over the next few weeks, Arsenal will owe Rosicky and his extra effort a huge debt of gratitude if they somehow manage to clinch another Champions League place.