2008-09 Player of the Season
It turns out, player of the season for 2008-09 was a simple choice and one that I don`t think will be widely contested. Whereas last year there were a plethora of candidates- to the point that I only had our 30 goal striker at number three- this particular election has been run unopposed. It is somewhat ironic that in a season where injuries have decimated the squad for nearly every competitive match I can remember; that this man has been seldom troubled by that familiar old foe. I made a point of affirming in the Denilson article that the statistics favour the young Brazilian, likewise, the numbers swell favourably for Robin van Persie.
Amongst the many "what ifs?" pondered over by Arsenal fans over the last couple of potless seasons, a prominent question has always featured. "What if we had had Robin van Persie fit for the whole season?" Well, this season, the exit polls have been conducted, the votes have been counted and the results are in. Top scorer at the club with twenty goals, top provider in the country with twelve Premiership assists (including three in one game versus Hull City) and a further five assists in the Champions League and two assists in the F.A. Cup; he has taken six penalties this season and scored every single one. He has also racked up goals against Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea this season. Van Persie has also hit the woodwork an incredible sixteen times this season, if even half of those had gone in, he might well have collected the Golden Boot. Regardless of what you think of how he fits into the team, those facts alone have made player of the season a pretty perfunctory choice. I`ll confess that at the beginning of the season I still had doubts over van Persie. Not surrounding his obvious talent, but his consistency and his ability to be a team player. His sending off against Stoke appeared to be something of a nadir, his temperament has always been suspect and the early months of the season saw him flit manically between brilliance and abject anonymity. The childish charge at Sorensen as the game at Stoke slipped away from us saw him banned for three matches. It would appear he used that time to reflect on his symbiosis with the team. Upon his comeback, he hit two quick fire goals at Stamford Bridge and really has not looked back since, using that match winning performance as a spring board for greater things. The assists count alone has dispelled my concern on that count; his temper has also remained checked since that day at the Britannia Stadium. But van Persie has improved this season in other ways too.
For instance, another of my lingering foibles was his inability to use his right foot. That`s not a particularly personal affront to van Persie, I just find it pathetic that footballers who play football seven days a week and are paid vast amounts of money to use their feet, refuse to use 50% of the tools available to them with the ball in their possession. (I`m looking at you Carlos Vela). Back in September at Ewood Park, Theo Walcott set van Persie up inside the area and the Dutchman scored by prodding the ball home with the outside of his left foot. I strongly believe that, given the same chance again now, he would use his right. His confidence with his right foot has grown over the season, a point neatly encapsulated by an interview he gave in November in which he confirmed he had been working on his "chocolate leg" on the training g round. Van Persie has scored six goals with his right foot and two with his head this season, which means 40% of his goals have come by other means other than his left foot- a quite unimaginable scenario had I posited it to you last August. Van Persie`s set piece delivery has also improved markedly this year and a large number of his assists this season have arrived via this route. His left foot has always been considered a lethal weapon and with the ball stationary, i.e. from corners, free kicks and penalties, his delivery has been immaculate. Perhaps the only surprise is that he did not score directly from a free kick this season, though he did strike wood on three occasions from dead balls. But perhaps it points to a more altruistic streak which has emerged, as he has passed up the opportunity to shoot from compromising angles and has instead delivered the ball to a team mate. I think his assists from free kicks this year perhaps makes up the short fall of direct free kicks which have resulted in goals for him.
It has been obvious for some time now that van Persie has something of an 'x` factor. The ability to produce something from nothing- his two goals at Stamford Bridge being a case in point. He has always been capable of the sublime and this season he has not disappointed on that score once more. In my top ten goals of the season, van Persie featured twice. His goal against Liverpool at the Emirates arrived at a time where Arsenal were finding it difficult to break down Liverpool`s robust defence. Nasri delivered a fine long ball but Robin had plenty to do in the area, shifting his feet brilliantly to manoeuvre between Agger and Carragher before delivering a snap shot with his right foot. Two of the league`s finest centre halves defeated in one swift movement. But the goal that perhaps defines best what van Persie gives Arsenal would be his last ditch equaliser at Goodison Park. Arsenal and van Persie had been pretty dire for 92 minutes in Merseyside and were on their way to a limp defeat. But van Persie again looked for a small chasm of space in the Toffees` area, latched on to Diaby`s arcing pass and smashed a left foot volley into the corner from a tight angle, in a packed box to fetch Arsenal a crucial point at a very crucial time in the season. In fact, in the month of January, with the Gunners still looking to sign Arshavin to address their creative deficiencies, van Persie either scored or directly assisted every single goal we scored in January- and Arsenal scored eight times in the inaugural month of 2009. Where he fits in next season if Wenger persists with the 4-2-3-1 formation I am not sure, but for 2008-09, Robin van Persie has clearly been the jewel in Arsenal`s crown. Sweet like chocolate you might say.LD.