Monday, 30 January 2012

Van Persie’s performance against Aston Villa showed why he is so important

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

As Robin van Persie fired Arsenal into the lead after a remarkable turnaround at the Emirates, you could be forgiven for thinking the moment he reached the 120 goal mark – drawing level with Dennis Bergkamp as Arsenal’s 10th all-time record goal-scorer – was somewhat of an anti-climax.

A penalty in a scrappy (though admittedly dramatic) match in which Arsenal struggled to assert themselves for much of the game is hardly the way Van Persie will want to remember this moment.

However – as has been noted by many – Van Persie has become ‘Mr. Arsenal’ this season, and perhaps also the most obvious example of his manager’s philosophy coming to fruition.

Having joined Arsenal as an unknown 21 year old with less than 60 appearances at Feyenoord to his name, and only 15 goals, Van Persie has since made 259 appearances and scored 120 goals for Arsenal. Not only does Van Persie fit the bill in terms of players Wenger likes to look at in the market, but since joining the club, the ‘Flying Dutchman’ has also epitomised the style of play Arsenal have become associated with.

Just like his Dutch predecessor at Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp, Van Persie is the complete player. With 41 Premier-League assists*, Van Persie is still a little way off Bergkamp’s record but the latest Dutch legend does come close with his superb link-up play and willingness to bring others around him into the game.

Against Aston Villa, Van Persie had a hard time finding space behind the defence, especially in the first half. A lack of creativity and drive from midfield meant he was often forced to drop back into his own half in order to pick up the ball. It was notable, however, that once he was on the ball; the whole side were able to click into gear and began to look dangerous.

Even with the influence of Van Persie, however, Arsenal struggled to create clear chances and shooting opportunities. No matter how much they tried, the final ball was never quite right, and the Gunners went into the break 2-0 down.

Now is where the game and Robin van Persie’s 120th Arsenal goal begins to go from anti-climactic and forgettable, to dramatic and memorable.

Five simple words were all that were needed at half-time from a player who has embraced not only his tactical role in the side, but also his status at captain of the club - “We can win this competition”.

It is not just his goals that make the fans love him and the players trust him, but the fact he is a team-player.

Van Persie’s determination to be involved in absolutely everything – including, by the end of the Aston Villa game, defending a packed box at set-pieces – is what separates him from so many players. It seems that his mere presence near the rest of the players was enough to make passing crisper, and shots that much sweeter.

After a brilliant 15 second-half minutes, Arsenal had pulled level – enter stage-left, Robin van Persie (naturally, in shining armour), to win it for the Gunners. It may have just been a penalty, and perhaps it would be more special had it been a 25 yard volley against Manchester United, but – as ever with Van Persie – it was just what the doctor ordered.

Over the years, he has scored tap-ins, headers, volleys, screamers, etc. But if I may be so bold as to borrow yet another cliché, it doesn’t matter how they go in, as long as they do just that. The captain’s embrace with Thierry Henry after scoring the winner says all you need to know about the respect the Dutchman attracts from everyone affiliated with the club.

If he’s not scoring goals, he’s very rarely seen sulking, or doing nothing. Two penalties in 16 minutes against Aston Villa is not what set Van Persie’s performance apart from others. His determination to keep going and encourage others elevates his importance even more than his record-breaking goals tally.

As long as Arsenal can keep him happy one way or the other, they will have a chance of being successful and attracting more high calibre players to the club.

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 CWDailyGoonerCulann 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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