Arsenal take on Olympiakos tonight in the Champions League at the Emirates and striker RVP will hope to add to his 100th goal. Here, ANDY KYRIACOU assesses his time so far at the club…
“In Holland we call positions by numbers. You have the No 9 who is the main striker and the No 10 just behind. I call myself a nine-and-a-half.” – Robin Van Persie, Saturday 24th September, 2011.
Robin Van Persie reached his 100th goal for Arsenal against Bolton last weekend, deservedly taking all the plaudits. He is now only the 17th Arsenal player to have done this. Remarkable, when you consider the number of games it has taken him (238). Even more remarkable when taking into consideration the amount of time he has spent on the treatment table.
When he first arrived from Feyenoord in 2004, having spent a lot of his playing time on the wing, we were told he was the heir apparent to Dennis Bergkamp. Indeed our new ‘number 10’ (or 11 as he was then) wasted no time showing the fans just why this tag was set to stick, opening the scoring on his first competitive start against a pre-Sheik Manchester City. Initially he had a few disciplinary issues. Games against Southampton and Blackburn come to mind. One reporter even went as far as describing him as “21 going on nine”. But the skill in-and-about the penalty area was obvious even then.
Forward seven years and the ill-discipline has all but gone (last season’s controversial sending off against Barcelona aside), the eye for goal has sharpened (9 consecutive away goals in the 2010-11 season, 22 in total) and he has matured into a top class performer.
Many people questioning the quality of this Arsenal team say we face another hard battle to keep our one remaining ‘world class star’. I believe Van Persie is a footballer who plays for the enjoyment of the sport. Yes, he will want to win things in his career – who doesn’t? And it would be remiss of me to suggest he doesn’t harbor intentions of earning top wages at some point, but I genuinely feel he loves playing for this team, under this manager – who doesn’t?
I remember witnessing a goal he scored during the Emirates Cup vs. Inter Milan in 2007. A neat turn and swivel with the ball glued to his foot, completely wrong footing and confounding the defender, followed by a precise and thunderous finish at the near post. It was a great goal. But it was the celebration that stuck in my mind. The look of sheer joy at scoring a truly great goal in whatever competition he happened to be playing in, beckoning his teammates across to celebrate with himself and the subs bench. He looked like a man enjoying his work.
While we have Van Persie in this mood we will always have a chance of winning football matches, whoever the opposition is. The trick is to keep him, and keep him in this mood. Whether he is deployed as a number 10, or a number 9 and a half he will keep on scoring, and will be an integral part of the Arsenal machine.