Since his arrival at Arsenal in the mid-1990s, Arsene Wenger has made few better calls than acquiring the services of a relatively unknown Feyenoord youngster, called Robin van Persie. Like Thierry Henry before him, Wenger’s plan back in 2004 was to re-mould the Dutchman from being predominantly a left-winger into a striker, and 71 league goals in 164 games to date suggests the Frenchman pulled-off such a masterstroke.
Envisaged as a natural successor to countryman Dennis Bergkamp, a £3m outlay must now be considered a snip. It is a genuine shame that injuries have dogged van Persie or surely that goals to game ratio could, and probably would, have reflected further proficiency. The joint decision by both player and manager to utilise the former as an impact substitute against Stoke, not only epitomised the burden which now weighs on the Dutchman’s shoulders, but also the need for Wenger not to lose a second club captain within a year.
Van Persie delivered further evidence of the reliance his club now have on him with a second brace in as many Premier League games against Tony Pulis’ men. A week prior, his winner against Sunderland emphatically showcased his technical aptitude as late in the day he produced a sublime, match-winning free-kick. Regardless of improving results, confidence is still a limited commodity at the Emirates but van Persie can surely act as the middle man to help that assuredness, which is so synonymous with Arsenal, return. It is not only the quality he possesses both on and off the ball, but his sheer presence now provides the impetus Arsenal need to produce match-winning performances.
The club’s final-third must give Wenger mixed emotions; Marouane Chamakh looks a striker who is totally bereft of self-belief, and therefore in a state of regression, but the gradual progress of summer signing Gervinho is cause for encouragement. Luckily, van Persie has stayed free from injury so far this campaign and has featured in every domestic league game but if injury finds him again as it has a knack for doing, then his side may miss a player like no other Premier League club would. This elevated status has earned him the label of one of, if not the, most absolute strikers in the country – and indeed across Europe. His recent comments denying all links away from the club has appeased supporters, yet conversely, history confirms that words can mean little in football and u-turns on declarations of commitment, are unfortunately, all too common.
It would be fair to say Arsenal are going through a personnel reconstruction, in losing Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri – their two most influential midfielders – a massive void presented itself to Wenger. If they are to retain the services of their new captain, the Frenchman needs his new-look side to show further cohesion and demonstrate they can satisfy the striker’s personal ambition. Domestically the Dutchman is pretty much peerless, so a van Persie-less Arsenal is surely a concept Wenger must avoid at all costs.
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