The Man WiTh The ChoColaTe leg
Chris Towers waxes lyrical about the merits of Robin van Persie
fter an influential run of games – whisper it – it seems like Robin van Persie might be back. And, maybe this time, for good. Having patiently eased him back into first-team football, Arsène Wenger says that the Dutchman’s injury-plagued past, which started in earnest upon thumping in an equaliser against Man United four years ago, is finally behind him, and that his Arsenal career is all set for a fresh start. While Marouane Chamakh settled immediately and exceeded all reasonable expectations spearheading our attack in the first half of the season, in just the last few weeks we have seen all of what Van Persie can do. In his absence, hypothetical comparisons with Chelsea missing Drogba at his best are entirely legitimate. With our flamboyant number 10 on the field and in full flow, the team has a different dynamic about it – you just feel as though we are likely to create an extra five chances per game. If I remember rightly, based on his involvement in goals last season until he got injured in November, FourFourTwo found him to be the most efficient player in Europe. There are few players in the world genuinely skilled enough to turn a game for their team in an instant, but Van Persie has an aura about him which suggests he is one of them. His teammates have cited him as our most skilful player and it is easy to see why. I sat in the upper tier for the E******s Cup in 2007 and had a perfect view from behind as, in a flash, he spun on the ball and fired a near-post rocket past Francesco Toldo. It was similar to that turn he had executed against Dinamo Zagreb in our first competitive match in the stadium. He has the technique that can make a whole stadium rise to its feet. He’s certainly grown since arriving as a hot-headed twenty-year-old in 2004. Whilst obviously maintaining his passion for winning and hatred of losing, he curbed his short temper after the birth of his son presented him with new responsibilities to an extent which now totally qualifies him as the vice-captain of the team. Days before he was paraded as a new signing at a home game against Birmingham wearing zebra-print trousers, AW highlighted heading as one of his best attributes. We haven’t seen too much of that due to our style and his adapting role within the team, but with some of his cameo performances and goals in Highbury’s autumn years, it quickly became clear he had so much more to offer. Now, where most members of our squad are comparable to 6 others, van Persie stands unique. He can come deep or work the box, mix his height with quick feet, and score any kind of goal. His six strikes over a set of three matches in a week in January nicely demonstrated his ‘range’. Against West Ham, he rattled home a low cross inside the area before converting a late penalty. Against Leeds, his heading ability came to the fore, and then came his treble against Wigan. First, he finished a one-on-one with ease after breaking the offside trap. The second was a volley utilising his exquisite technique which must have been fine-tuned playing alongside Dennis Bergkamp for two seasons. His third showed his goalscorer’s instinct, and his ability to score with his ‘chocolate leg’. Six different goals, and a fine balance of skills which come together in harmony to make a devastating forward. This is what we miss in his absence. Since then, he hasn’t let up. Against Everton, unable to find the goal himself, and as one of the best of an average bunch of set-piece takers at the club, Van Persie utilised his other talents to help turn one point into three – forcing a corner from one of his familiar free-kicks, and then placing the resultant ball-in onto the head of
He can come deep or work the box, mix his height with quick feet, and score any kind of goal
Koscielny for the winner. And then he bagged a brace at Newcastle – which eventually (and horrifyingly) at least proved crucial in gaining on Man United. When you see his name on the team sheet, Arsenal look stronger. Thierry Henry used to have a similar effect – his presence projects a sense that Arsenal will be all right. If the team have four key players, they are Vermaelen, Cesc, Nasri and Van Persie. You can’t really see us losing too many matches in which those guys start together. His participation in the final part of the season could be massive for us. Our current position makes this the perfect time for him to stay fit and continue racking up the goals. An injury-free Van Persie can bring the team continuity, aid momentum, and make Arsenal appear that crucial bit more devastating.