January Player of the Month
There seems little point in attempting to create a synthetic sense of suspense by trawling through a list of prospective candidates for January`s Player of the Month. Frankly, there is only one candidate and despite it being something of a dry month when it comes to spellbinding performances (even though we weren`t defeated in January), this particular player would have won it most months anyway. If you cannot guess who it is at this point (the accompanying picture of this article withstanding) you probably have no business reading an Arsenal website. In fact, I`d probably gently encourage you to get back to scouring the interweb for pornography.
With January now at a close, Robin van Persie must have some sort of terminal curvature in his spine, because he has been carrying ten men on his back for much of the last four weeks. One well rehearsed statistic alone does more than justify the award. Robin van Persie either scored or directly assisted every single goal Arsenal registered in the month of January. In the one match he didn`t start, Arsenal didn`t score. Player of the Month does not get any more emphatic than that boys and girls. Did you ever see one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs takes to the field and plays every position? Van Persie began the month skippering the side for the first time as Plymouth Argyle visited Gooner towers. He slew the Championship side single handedly, firstly heading a Nasri corner into the roof of the net, then with an intelligent turn in the box followed by a low cross which was converted by Nicklas Bendtner. Not the first time Bendtner would profit from van Persie`s new found altruism. Van Persie would wrap the game up himself in the closing stages, lofting the ball over the Pilgrims keeper before lashing a difficult rising ball in off the underside of the bar with his "chocolate leg." Wearing the captain`s armband that day really seemed to imbue van Persie with an extra sense of responsibility. The Dutchman has always been reassuringly cocksure anyway, but the skipper`s armband gave him a few extra inches in height. With Fabregas sidelined and a poverty of genuine candidates available, I would like to see van Persie given the armband until Cesc returns. If it does add something else to his game, then the whole team will benefit.
Bolton arrived in North London one week later and frustrated Arsenal intently by defending deep and in numbers. A breakthrough looked unlikely until a piece of van Persie quality in the penalty area made the difference. It was nearly a carbon copy of the assist he had provided for Bendtner a week earlier, as RvP received the ball in the box, used his body cleverly to shield the ball and turn, before dinking in a delightful left footed cross which Bendtner attacked ravenously to score. It was an indefensible ball, into the "corridor of uncertainty" betwixt keeper and defender and had a beautiful bounce on it that ensured any connection would score. It also demonstrated a cool head in a pressure cooker situation, those of lesser technical ability might have lashed the ball across goal as hard as they could in desperation. The cross was a Bergkampesque piece of class. Hull City would likewise find van Persie impossible to contain, when the rest of the Arsenal side looked bereft of ideas. Firstly, he lashed a 30 yard free kick against the Tigers crossbar and minutes later provided a sumptuous corner for Adebayor to open the scoring with an excellent looping header. With Hull equalising late on, van Persie once again demonstrated his newly found maturity. Bendtner pinged the ball into him from the right with van Persie on the edge of the Hull area; van Persie looked up and shifted it left to Nasri to score. For a paradigm of how he has matured, I invite you to view van Persie`s goal at the JJB Stadium in November 2005. He found himself in exactly the same position, on the edge of the Wigan area with Ljungberg to his left. He shot (and scored, largely thanks to some asinine goalkeeping). In fact, I think three months ago, van Persie would have taken on the shot. He was at it again, two minutes later, feeding Bendtner with an intelligent through ball in the box to ensure the victory.
Van Persie could have had any number of assists against Cardiff too, had through balls to Bendtner, Nasri and Eboue been rewarded with the finishes they deserved. He also had the best chance of the game, latching onto Adebayor`s flick on; he turned and shot at a tight angel but was excellently closed down by Enckelman. Perhaps his coup de grace in January arrived at Goodison Park that Wednesday. With the levels of service from the midfield verging on laughable, RvP and Adebayor were left largely to their own devices against a resolute Everton backline. However, on the one single occasion any of our midfielders showed any semblance of quality that night, van Persie was able to deliver to devastating effect. Everton stood off in injury time, holding on in vain to a one goal lead. It enabled Diaby time and space to pick a beautifully flighted pass into the area, van Persie chested it down in a crowded penalty box before despatching an unstoppable volley past Tim Howard from a tight angle. Once again it was an example of a cool head and celestial technique in a pressure cooker situation. We have always been aware that van Persie is capable of stunning moments such as these, indeed there are a litany of examples that will doubtless have been committed to You Tube. But what has been pleasing this month are not only the increased proclivity towards assisting others to score, but the variety of goals too. He has clearly worked on his right foot, having scored with it on six occasions this season, but a header from a corner too shows he can be as productive connecting with corners as he can be taking them.
The manager has been criticised heavily for leaving van Persie out of the goalless draw with West Ham, but I entirely understand and endorse the boss` reasons for doing so. We all know RvP has been incredibly injury prone over the last couple of years and in 2006 and 2007 it was this time of year that his season finished. Both manager and player spoke in the summer about managing his body better and being realistic about what can be expected from it. Had van Persie been injured against West Ham the manager would have been criticised heavily for overplaying a player with propensity towards ailments. These are calls a manager has to make, had Adebayor buried a ridiculously simple chance as a man of his wage demands should, this would have been a moot discussion. (In fact, if anything, I thought Arsenal lost their momentum when Bendtner made way for van Persie- through no fault of the Dutchman.). There is an argument for playing your best players when they are on form, but I think there`s just as compelling an argument for making sure they don`t get seriously injured. In January, van Persie has shown that an extra sense of responsibility, as well as a willingness to work on previous weaknesses, has made him our most important player in the absence of Fabregas. He has shown improvement in all areas he has complete control over- his attitude, his temperament, his right foot. Let`s keep our fingers crossed that he has the physical faculties to stay injury free and become the player we all know he can be.LD.