Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday October 1 2009
The result at Eastlands and the subsequent furore surrounding it aside, September is a month that has been good to Arsenal. One might argue largely because, the away match at City aside, the fixtures computer was good to Arsenal. That said, flat track bullying reaps many rewards too. The month has seen Arsenal score 13 goals via the conduit of ten different goal scorers; which speaks highly of the attacking flexibility Arsenal have rediscovered sans Adebayor. (Of course the irony of this assertion would be that Adebayor scored one of the six players to have scored against us in September- as if you`d forgotten). September has seen newly feted heroes with Vito Mannone`s display against Fulham earning the sort of plaudits which will be swiftly rebuked the instant he`s beaten too easily. The month has also seen the long awaited and very welcome return of Tomas Rosicky- buried in the controversy of Manchester was the fact that he scored on his first first team appearance for 20 months. The centre back partnership of Gallas and Vermaelen continues to blossom, though the six soft goals shipped against City and Liege should not inoculate the pair from criticism completely. Where September`s Player of the Month is concerned, there is only one clear candidate where I am concerned. It`s not the first time I`ve said it about this particular individual.
It took until September for Robin van Persie to register his first Arsenal goal of the season, but in reality the function he had been performing for the team prior to that had already been significant. As is often his wont, Monsieur Wenger has looked to reinvent one of his prodigal sons, placing van Persie at the arrow head of Arsenal`s newly fangled front three. In an attempt to get the best out of van Persie, Wenger has in the past shifted the Dutch striker to the left wing, as a withdrawn striker and as an outright partner for Adebayor and Henry. But it would appear Wenger has come to the conclusion that, with van Persie now at 26 and clearly a more mature, team oriented player than the incarnation of two years ago, it is not a question of what we can do for van Persie, but what van Persie can do for us. A lot of people have misunderstood the "lone front man" role he is currently occupying, deducing that only an Adebayor or Drogba style bulldozer player can operate effectively in it. What Wenger has seen is that van Persie is incredibly good at bringing others into play because he is and always has been excellent with his back to goal. He is strong and intelligent with the ball and seldom tackled successfully, he uses his body well. With the likes of Arshavin, Rosicky and Bendtner in and around him, van Persie is the best player we have to bring those creative forces into play. To illustrate, only Ryan Giggs has more assists than van Persie this season thus far. Had Arsenal scored with half of the chances created against Olympiacos, I fancy Robin might have even nudged ahead of him by now.
Of course the biggest portion of food for thought for Wenger is that van Persie is also one of our best finishers too. The Gunners have accumulated 37 shots on goal in the last two games- van Persie creating a significant number of them. Van Persie has created 25 opportunities for team mates this season, more than any other player in the Premiership. It is telling that we have only scored from three if them- and van Persie has buried two of those himself. Therein lies the conundrum with van Persie being chief creator, those around him- possibly Eduardo apart, simply aren`t as deadly in front of goal. (Though Robin appears to have carried his love affair with the woodwork this season, hitting it three times this season. This means he has struck the bar or post 18 times in twelve months, if even half of those had gone in, we`d be looking at a striker with goal scoring statistics on a par with Torres). With Arsenal registering 13 different goal scorers this season, perhaps this is a moot point that is in the phase of correction.
All three of his goals this month have also illustrated his suitability to the role of figurehead. The exquisite goal at Eastlands would not have been scored by any other Arsenal player. Simply, it wasn`t even a half chance. Rosicky spun the ball into him with his back to goal, the pass was a little short yet not only did he do extremely well to meet it, but he had the presence of mind to take a touch and turn himself into a position to shoot in one movement. Once he had forged himself a square inch of space, he had the strength and ability to swivel and shoot low beyond Given on his right foot from outside the box. Thirty five yard volleys and cheeky back heel finishes will always garner more attention, but this sort of goal is never scored by an ordinary footballer. His awareness of his body and of space and the strength and will to execute an accurate shot all in half a millisecond puts me in mind of Bergkamp`s famous goal at Newcastle. It may not have been as aesthetically pleasing, but it was no less exquisite in its execution and speed of thought. He performed a similar trick at Craven Cottage, albeit from closer range. Fabregas` arcing pass was inch perfect, but van Persie was still left with a lot to do. Again, he demonstrated his strength and ability in tight spaces, taking a touch, resisting the attentions of Aaron Hughes and slotting into the bottom corner with his right foot, all in the space of two seconds with defenders for company. Once again, his awareness of space and of his body is unsurpassed. The goal also showed that when not the arch creator, he can be the deadly finisher in the penalty area too- a skill he proved very neatly with his goal at home to Liverpool last season. I simply read with amazement that Arsenal fans want him shunted out to the wide positions when he constantly demonstrates such ability in the area. The tap in against Olympiacos, again with Eduardo this time proving that Wenger puts him on the left with very good reason with excellent wide play, Robin showed predatory instinct in the area to give Arsenal the lead. The beauty of our three pronged attack is that the three players are interchangeable; all are just as capable of skinning a full back as they are popping up in the penalty area undetected. But simply nobody could head the formation quite like van Persie and his immense skill set. His name may be Robin, but he`s proving very much to be our Batman and our Robin.LD.
Date:Thursday October 1 2009
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