First off I want to say that when fully fit Robin VanP is far and away my favourite Arsenal player. I love the way he plays the game, that swagger he moves around the pitch with, his ability to get it back when defenders try to stick it to him and i of course love the goals he scores. The problem is the “when fit” part of the opening sentence.
As another season comes to an end us Arsenal fans find ourselves once more looking back at certain games in the season and thinking ‘if only Robin had been available’. Hindsight is made up of a lot of ifs and buts and perhaps ‘if’ Robin had played more we would have still been challenging for the title ‘but’ unfortunately he wasn’t. Despite once more promising plenty of goals and showing us all in all to brief glimpses what he was capable of our Dutch front-man yet again underachieves.
I looked back a bit over his stats at the club over the last few seasons and they make for depressing reading. Starting in the 2004/05 season he made 26 league appearances, the following season it was 24 and last season it had fallen down again to 22. This year the most he can clock up is 17. A league season is 38 games long and over the past four seasons out of a total of 152 league games he has played (either as a starter or a sub) in just 89, that 58%. What is more alarming is that from his break out season (68%) he has fallen steadily to this season (39%). Four seasons does not make a career but the trend is there for all to see. At a time when a player should be building towards the peak years of his ten year office Robin is getting weaker.
So lets look at his goal stats for when he is playing. Good strikers hit between 1 goal every 2-3 games. Great strikers exceed this. Henry had a hit rate of 62%, that’s almost two goals every three games during his time at Arsenal. Our much maligned Togo front man comes in at 44%, it’s a decent strike rate when you consider he’s been on his own up front for a lot of those games. And when does Robin, who many feel is our most natural finisher, end up? Well to be honest a lot less impressive than I though he would be. He has played a total of 135 games for the club and knocked in 42 goals. That is only 32%, that’s just less than a goal every 3 games. Ade is nearing one in every two, Henry was almost 2 in every 3 and Robin is well below them both. Admittedly a good few of these games were from the bench but that is the same for the other two as well.
We could start this season with a striker that fans seem unconvinced over (Ade), one that the team seem unconvinced over (Nick) and two whom the medics seem unconvinced over (Eduardo and Robin). I don’t know about you but that all makes for a big pile of uncertainty. Wenger has some big questions to answer up front in the summer. Eduardo may never come back to the player that we all hoped he could become. Ade could prove to be a one season wonder and while he is young I have personally seen little in our big-mouthed Dane to suggest that he will capable of leading the line. So what should Wenger do and if he dips into the market who should he buy?
Well Henry back is an option. I cannot see Wenger spending to land him on a permanent basis but I do think that a loan deal is a possibility. Henry would give us that little bit of experience up front. He knows the Premiership and he can also cover on the left at a push for the times when Thomas R is out injured. He loves the club and I think the club still loves him. However, after stepping out of Henry’s giant shadow this season will the young players want to step into it again?
Robhino at Madrid is another option. He would not be cheap and has snubbed us before. But other than that he fits a Wenger signing in that he is young, quick and technically gifted. He is unfortunately a midget and I would worry about him leading the line against some of the more direct defenders that ply their trade in this league.
There are other possibilities of signings but one name for me stands out above all others: David Villa. This guy has a proven record, every season he scores 15-20 goals in Spain. He is quick, strong and very skilful. He is also only 26 year old and with his club rapidly getting into severe financial difficulties he could be acquired for between £15-£20 million. That’s a fair sized chunk of change but I think it could prove to be money well spent.
The other option is to give Robin one more chance. One more season to show us that his body is capable of playing 30+ league games a season. He has everything else in his locker but unfortunately for us its stays in his locker more than he brings it to the pitch. What will Wenger do? I think he will give Robin another season but if at the end of 2008/09 we are back once more thinking ‘if only Robin had been fit for that game’ then his time at the club will be at an end. Next season will tell us if we have a Rolls-Royce on our hands or a crock.