After Olympics, Park Chu-Young can focus on football

Arsenal’s South Korean striker Park Chu-Young showed in the Olympic Games this summer that he still has the scoring touch when it comes to playing for his country. We don’t really know how good he could be with the Gunners since he hasn’t been given a chance to prove himself by manager Arsene Wenger as of yet. However, at 27 years old, it’s time Wenger started playing him or cut him loose.

Chu-Young was added to the South Korean squad as an overage player and helped them secure a bronze medal. He scored a beautiful diving header against Switzerland in Korea’s second group game and then added the game winner in a 2-0 win over Japan in the bronze-medal match. Counting those two goals, which technically came for the nation’s Under-23 team, he now has 25 for his nation in 58 appearances.

Chu-Young has always been a prolific scorer for his country with 18 goals in 26 games as an Under-20 player and 12 in 29 matches with the Under-23s. He’s even done well at club level and one assumes that’s why Wenger signed him last summer in the first place. He had 35 goals in 96 games with FC Seoul between 2005 and 2008. He then moved to France for three years to play with Monaco and added another 27 goals in 103 matches. He played in just one league game with Arsenal last year along with three League Cup games and a couple of European contests. He managed to score in one of the League Cup matches.

Park was under quite a bit of pressure when joining Arsenal since he was due to serve two years in the military in his homeland, which is mandatory for most South Koreans by the time they reach the age of 28. That meant he really had to return home by 2013 if he was going to fulfil his duty. He came under criticism back in South Korea though when he was granted a 10-year residency visa by Monaco, which basically meant he wouldn’t have to serve his military duty until the age of 38.

This must have been a huge weight off his shoulders since it meant he could now focus on his football career without having to interrupt it for two years right while he would be in his prime. Chu-Young then helped out his own cause immensely as well as his teammates by scoring the winner against Japan to secure the bronze medal in Cardiff.

The 18 South Korean players on the team were told if they beat Japan, who are bitter rivals of the South Koreans, they wouldn’t have to perform their military service since they would become exempt. The Arsenal striker obviously became an instant hero with his teammates and the nation by scoring the game winner in the first half. Chu-Young, as well as his 17 teammates will now be able to breathe quite a bit easier knowing they’re free of the mandatory military duty.

Whether it’s right or wrong to exempt athletes from their obligation isn’t the issue here as it’s something the South Korean government often does. You’re always going to get some people who agree with it and others who are dead against it. But with a clearer mind, it’s time for Chu-Young to prove to Wenger and his Gunner teammates that he’s ready to make an impact in the Premier League like he has done everywhere else he’s played.

It’ll also be interesting to see if Chu-Young is recalled to the national team when South Korea resumes its World Cup qualifying matches. Manager Choi Kang-hee left him off the squad back in June due to the controversy he created by getting a 10-year extension for military service. The player even issued a public apology to the residents of South Korea over his actions, but promised that he would return to serve his duty when it was time to. He was added to the Olympic squad after apologizing and things couldn’t have worked out better for him.

Chu-Young seems to be in the same position again this year with Arsenal though since Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have been added to the squad and Robin van Persie could end up staying for the season. This will actually be a tougher squad to crack than last year’s even though on-loan Carlos Vela has been sold. His performances for South Korea hopefully caught Wenger’s eye, but with the season starting this weekend it’s going to be tough for him to earn a spot for quite some time.

It’s a shame for Arsenal supporters and football fans in general that many skilled players such as Chu-Young can’t get a game due to modern-day tactics and formations. However, there are many far less-skilled players in the league who are guaranteed 90 minutes every match.

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From Peterborough, just about 60 minutes from Arsenal's ground. I remember going to Highbury when growing up and after my Uncle's stepson Mark Heeley joined the Gunners from Peterborough when he was just 17 back in the 1970s. Currently cover sports (mainly football, boxing, and ice hockey) for various sites and magazines. Still see most of the games when in Canada. In fact, they get more EPL matches there than in Britain.