Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday November 2 2009
There are times when trying to find a Player of the Month can be a cruel and unyielding task. On many occasions last season, it was simply difficult to find a stand out performer- this was due to a mixture of inconsistent form and a perpetual injury list. However, there are times when it is cruel because more than one player stands out- and I`d consider a joint award as something of a cop out on my part. This month, there are some very serious contenders that probably would have taken the award this time last year. Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas continue to flourish as a partnership (it will be a stern test when that uninterrupted partnership is broken by injury or suspension- as it surely will be at some point). Alex Song continues to man the defensive areas of our midfield on his lonesome impressively- though it is worth noting that he needs Denilson back to deputy as soon as possible, Arsenal have only kept two clean sheets since Denilson went off injured at Manchester City and none away from home. In most other months, Francesc Fabregas would be a comfortable winner too. His virtuoso performance against Blackburn Rovers was of particular note, whilst he has notched up another five assists and three further goals this season. The current system allows him to push up field from deep. The problem with playing him in the hole at the end of last season was that he found himself with his back to goal and heavily marked too often. Playing at the fulcrum of the midfield three has allowed him to make those telling passes as well as perfecting those runs from deep. Frank Lampard only has four goals from open play in 2009- surely Fabregas is now better than Lampard in this respect? (He has always been better than him in every other aspect of midfield play).
However, October has been the month in which Robin van Persie has firmly established himself as one of the world`s best strikers. He has seven goals from his last seven Premiership games (opening the scoring in each of our last three games) and has created more chances for team mates than any other Premiership player. He currently has six assists to his name. I did not see Match of the Day this weekend, but I have been alerted by an article on another site (not an Arsenal one) that at the end of the programme, Gary Lineker asked his panel, "We have seen three great strikers today, so who would you take between Drogba, Torres and Rooney?" It`s quite astonishing that van Persie was omitted from such a question- particularly when even by van Persie`s own lofty standards; he is on something of a hot streak. Quite simply he can and does do everything a world class striker should be able to. He can strike from distance, he has a poacher`s nose in the penalty area (his two goals on Saturday ample evidence of that), he never miscontrols the ball, he never wastes a pass and I struggle to think of another player in the league more gifted with his back to goal in tight spaces. He creates chances for his team mates, both with his keen eye for a pass as well as his intelligent movement in the channels. Drogba is an impressive physical battering ram of a striker, Torres is as gifted a finisher as you`re likely to see and Rooney has genius in him that can turn matches. I think van Persie has all of those aspects to his game. This time last year I questioned van Persie`s altruism and his ability to be a team player. At the age of 26, he appears to have reached an age where he has ironed out his mental faculties and accentuated his strengths.
The man himself puts it down to his family life. With the birth of his second child during the month of October, he is a settled family man having been hitched since the age of 21. Fatherhood is often pointed to as a pinnacle moment in a man reaching full maturity. His manager is keen to focus on the work he has done on the training pitch.
"Robin has taken much more responsibility because he is up front. He has committed himself to the club for a long period and he is at an age, 26, where a footballer becomes really efficient, mature and wants to win things.
"That is why I believe he can be the best passer in the league and the best goalscorer in the league. When you look at the goals he scores they are always impressive."
I`m struggling to recall many van Persie misses. Perhaps the header late on at Upton Park being the only chance I would have expected him to score. His efficiency is laudable. Last season we saw snatches of how predatory van Persie can be in the penalty area, his goals against Liverpool at home and away at Everton prime examples of how he sniffs out chances and operates in tight spaces. His goals this month have illuminated this fact further. In the home match against Blackburn, he peeled off the shoulder of his defender and invited Fabregas to play a defence splitting pass, which duly arrived and was punctuated with a swift touch and left foot finish into the bottom corner. Against Birmingham he scored in a very similar fashion, with Alex Song providing the ammunition, van Persie again made a very deceptive run off the shoulder of his defender, initially the ball was trapped under his feet, but he recovered in double quick time to lash home an unstoppable left foot finish. This is the kind of efficiency and ruthlessness that Wenger alludes to in the decision to move him into a central striking role.
Away at Alkmaar he demonstrated a side to his game only evident in the last twelve months. When Arshavin robbed an errant AZ defender and moved the ball to van Persie, there was only one defender between him and goal. If you think back to the 2005-06 season, I can name at least three van Persie goals which left colleagues waving their arms desperately. Think Blackburn and Villa at home when he bent the ball home from impossibly tight angles. That he had the talent to do so disguised the fact that he eschewed better placed team mates. His goal away at Wigan that season left Ljungberg fuming, as the Swede would have been in on goal had van Persie not shot and seen his strike fortunately fumbled by the Wigan keeper. Yet on this occasion, van Persie had the presence of mind to shift the ball to Cesc Fabregas for an open goal, when van Persie probably had the ability and technique to bend the ball in himself. It is this streak of altruism- together with a prolonged spell of fitness- that has seen him morph from potential yet erratic genius to a consistent performer.
His last three goals of the month in London derbies demonstrate his cool head in the box. His finish at Upton Park from Sagna`s cross seemed simple enough, but Green always looked likely to get to the cross as it hung in the air. When he didn`t, lesser strikers might not have been prepared for the chance and missed. Van Persie stayed alert and cushioned the ball in with that simplicity that great players always manage to splash all over their canvasses. Having the combined ability to sense a chance and then take it when it comes is truly an unstoppable marriage. Both of his goals in the North London derby were further evidence of that, stretching himself beyond the advances of Ledley King to get a toe to Sagna`s first cross and then again showing alertness to stay focused on the ball when Gomes and King made a delightful hash of Sagna`s next cross. Like I said, a duller striking instinct might have been caught off guard and let the ball escape them. Along with Fabregas, van Persie has become Arsenal`s most important player. At this moment in time, I wouldn`t swap him for anyone.LD.
August: Alexandre Song Billong
September: Robin van Persie.
Date:Monday November 2 2009
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