The Importance of Robin van Persie
You have to feel that Arsène Wenger would like nothing more than to have a team of players molded in Van Persie’s style. Minus the injuries and the inconsistencies that they tend to bring of course.
It is obvious that Wenger is trying to follow the Barcelona model of tiki-taka football, with short passes and a loose formation. Everybody but Alex Song and the defenders seem to have a free role to move where they want. While it sometimes results in a lack of width, which doesn’t hurt Arsenal that much anyway as they’re not a very good crossing team, it means that they have a varied offense that drags defenses out of place.
Every year it seems like the style gap between the Catalans and the Gunners closes a bit, the young players are getting more experienced, and the team as a whole is coping better with the demands of the Premier League. This year they’ve even started pressing with a high line, aiming to win the ball back in much the same fashion as Guardiola’s side. The one thing they still lack however, is a directness with their play.
To watch Arsenal at Old Trafford was to see an offense that had no idea what to do when an experienced defense refused to buckle under the weight of canny runs and short passes. Creative outlets like Nasri and Arshavin were allowed a decent amount of freedom outside of the box, yet kept trying to be clever. It seems at times this Arsenal team is afraid to score a goal that doesn’t look like magic, to anybody watching it was obvious that they had to start taking some shots to keep the defense honest. For all Barcelona’s triangular passing, and one-twos they aren’t afraid to have a pop from distance. Not to mention the first time Nasri decided to display some fortitude Chamakh almost pounced on a rebound to level the scores.
There was a similar situation last year against Tottenham, where Arsenal badly needed someone unafraid to force the action rather than let the game flow. Van Persie came off the bench that game and immediately forced Gomes into a string of saves. Arsenal still lost that game, but they showed some verve, some intent, and what this team can be if they stop being so focused on artistry.
Of course this is why Van Persie is so important, because he already has the right spirit built in. First of all he can play as a trequartista, a complete forward, or even on the left in a front three, his adaptability making him perfect for Wenger’s system. He has a vision that suits the Gunner’s style of play, as witnessed by some flicks to set up Vela and Nasri in the first couple of games since his return. Yet he can also be the striker Arsenal desperately need. They tried to address it with Chamakh over the summer, but while he adds directness and a different challenge for the opposition, his biggest strength is Arsenal’s biggest weakness. They don’t cross particularly well, their main wingers often cut in, and Chamakh just isn’t good enough with his feet.
Of course this is nothing but whimsy unless Van Persie can get himself healthy for the long run, because he was pretty ineffective after coming on against Manchester United as well. However there is still a long way to go in the season and Arsenal have coped quite well despite missing what could be their most irreplaceable piece. If they can incorporate him back into the lineup quickly, the title could be theirs.