Monday, 17 October 2011

RVP‘s heroics against Sunderland proved why he’s the Premier League's best striker

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Joss Bennett looks at Robin van Persie's role against Sunderland.



As Arsenal once again struggled against lower-table mediocrity, it was once again Robin van Persie who provided the goods (and goals) that allowed the Gunners to snatch three points against Sunderland and soar to tenth in the table. 

The Dutchman’s superb display of skill and determination saw him score two superb goals and come amazingly close on at least one other occasion when sheer bad luck (and a bit of woodwork) denied him what would almost certainly have been the goal of the season so far. Furthermore, aside from his obvious contribution in terms of goals, Van Persie also had a key role to play in Wenger’s tactics against Sunderland, particularly in the absence of Aaron Ramsey.  

Since the departure of Cesc Fabregas at the start of the season, there has been a distinct shortage of creativity through the middle of the pitch. For one reason or another, Wenger hasn’t directly replaced Fabregas this season (although he may have another chance in January) and our current set of players have struggled to replicate his creativity so far. 

Mikel Arteta, although a good player, is not his countryman’s replacement and has always been more of a ‘deep-lying’, rather than ‘advanced’ playmaker (he averaged just 0.2 through-balls, but five long-balls per game last season*). Aaron Ramsey, meanwhile, has struggled for form and Rosicky has always preferred a wider or deeper position where he can run at players to playing in the ‘hole’ behind the striker. 

The result of this has been that Arsenal have tried to step up their efforts to create chances from wide positions, but against Sunderland, Van Persie constantly dropped back from his starting position to help out the midfield. While this isn’t uncommon for the Dutchman, he was dropping back more than usual and appeared to have been largely given a ‘free’ role by the manager, particularly in the first half when Arsenal began to wobble after about 20 minutes and struggled to control the midfield. 

When Arsenal were in control of the match, the midfield three became fully fluid and the shape constantly switched between a 1-2 (4-1-2-3) and a 2-1 (4-2-3-1); usually pivoting around Mikel Arteta. To add to this; Van Persie dropped back, Walcott moved inside and Gervinho hugged the left touchline and Sunderland completely failed to deal with the flurry of movement in their half. But Van Persie wasn’t just a lame duck in midfield – he attempted the most amount of through-balls (three*) of anyone in the Arsenal side and attempted two ‘dribbles’, drawing four fouls in the process*. 

In the second half, Rosicky’s improved performance (including one mazy run from midfield and two dribble attempts overall*) meant the midfield became less reliant on Van Persie dropping back and the Dutchman was slightly more advanced. Although interestingly, Van Persie only took one of his four open-play shots in the second half, while the team as a whole managed eight more shots after the break**. 

                                    
 by Guardian Chalkboards

Graphic showing Van Persie's passing in the first half, where he had a freer role, and the second half, when he was slightly more advanced. 

Van Persie’s double here takes his tally for Arsenal to 28 in 34 games in 2011. Furthermore, since 16 Oct of last year, Robin van Persie has been involved in 29 Premier League goals (23 goals, 6 assists) – equalled by only Wayne Rooney***.  Touch wood Arsenal’s new fan favourite can stay fit, sign a new contract and continue to prove why he is the best striker in the Premier League at the moment. 

*OPTA stats from Whoscored.com
**Stats from Guardian Chalkboards
*** Stats from @InfrostradaLive on twitter.

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGooner. 
Culann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.



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