Arsenal will miss Tomas Rosicky after a decade of loyal service to the club
Exactly 10 years to the day since Arsenal signed Tomas Rosicky from Borussia Dortmund, he was officially scrubbed off the squad list and into history. When the new home kit was unveiled by the club on Monday, it was Alexis Sanchez pictured with the No. 7 emblazoned across his back. The shirt handed over by Robert Pires a decade ago now has a new owner.
In purely functional terms, the loss of Rosicky will be barely felt by Arsene Wenger. He only made one appearance all season and that an FA Cup win over Burnley in the winter which resulted in another cruel injury. Rosicky has not been a major factor in the starting XI for some time now, his presence gradually withering away until it was barely noticeable at all.
It was lost amid the brilliant chaos of the final day but Wenger's decision to not even grant the 35-year-old a farewell game against Aston Villa was telling. The serious business of snatching second spot was afoot and Rosicky, who had shown impressive character to battle back to fitness after that devastating injury setback against Burnley, was no longer viewed as a means to achieve such an end. It was a sorry decline for one of the most talented footballers to have graced Arsenal in the decade he's been at the club.
Rosicky once optimistically made the argument that having lost so much of his career to injury, his "football age" was actually two years younger than his actual age. But time caught up with him this season and the club were right to make a clean break, freeing up space and resources for new faces.
His shirt has been given to Sanchez and his place in the squad looks set to be filled by the incoming Granit Xhaka but even if Rosicky's first-team contribution was negligible by the end, that is not to say that he will be easy to replace. Rosicky was an experienced, much-loved member of the squad. The cascade of praise from his teammates and the touching scenes after the Villa match were evidence of his status within the group, as was the fact that Olivier Giroud ran to find him after scoring in that game. On Monday, Wenger's tribute to mark his departure was more fulsome than a player who made one appearance all season might normally expect.
"It will always be a frustration [he didn't play more games] because first of all Tomas was an exceptional talent," Wenger said. "I personally, like we all do here, love the player. The standing ovation he gets every time he walks out there tells you a lot. We love the man as well, and his attitude, and his exceptional class and qualities. It's sad [that he's leaving] but I must say, for me it was a privilege to manage him."
For Arsenal fans, it was a privilege to watch Rosicky in those moments and months when his body wasn't failing him. With 246 appearances he is no marginal figure in Arsenal's history even if he suffered two unfortunate twists of fate: the never-ending injury problems and the timing of his arrival, coming as it did at the start of Arsenal's great transitional (read: title-less) period. Perhaps those two factors do not exist entirely in isolation of each other.
Who knows what kind of player Rosicky would have evolved into, and what success he would have orchestrated, had injury not stunted his progression. Like Dennis Bergkamp, his greatest assets were the processing speed of his brain and his ability to execute what he alone imagined, neither of which are qualities which diminish as rapidly as physical prowess. Having started out wide for Arsenal, he could have become a deep-lying playmaker or a No. 10 to build a team or an idea around.
"If you love football, you love Tomas Rosicky," said Wenger after a performance full of no-look passes against Brighton last season which hinted at another Rosicky revival. But like the others, it was not to last.
As he departs on a free transfer, off to Euro 2016 with Czech Republic but also to an uncertain club future, a quote from Wenger seems to ring true once again.
"He had all the football qualities to play the game we love to play here," said the Arsenal manager on Monday, "and I would say Tomas Rosicky was the perfect player for Arsenal Football Club."
It is more correct than even Wenger intended. A willowy but witty playmaker whose technical brilliance was disguised by the physical frailty which proved his undoing, Rosicky was the embodiment of frustrated hopes and dreams, the delayed gratification which never comes. A perfect player for Arsenal, yes.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport