He is the man on everybody’s lips at the moment and has almost single-handedly lifted Arsenal out of their early-season crisis. Van Persie has been phenomenal since the beginning of the calendar year and is essential to Arsenal, but at the moment, they need him starting all of their games. Last night, Wenger showed everyone the dilemma he has when his captain is not available for selection. It was not a disastrous performance, but it was one that contained too many aspects of the old Arsenal. There were too many chances wasted and the tendency of letting the game slip away from them crept back into their game.
It was all underpinned by Wenger’s decision to leave Robin van Persie on the bench, which he later admitted had been a mistake. The Premier League’s leading goalscorer was finally summoned from his seat on 62 minutes and didn’t have a profound effect, mainly because his team-mates had lost their momentum, and it was clear that he was needed from the start. But if Arsenal seriously wish to enter the highly competitive top four this season, they simply cannot rely on Van Persie to rescue them in every game.
The Dutchman’s injury record suggests that it would be foolish to start him in every game, however, after he’d just scored a hatrick against Chelsea, it was a big mistake to not start him, and Wenger will be disappointed to let an easy chance of qualification for the Champions League slip. Nevertheless, Wenger’s men are going to have to learn to cope without him because Van Persie is so injury prone, and last night showed us that they have a lot to learn. They lacked flair and a general understanding amongst the team, which is always present with their captain. Marseille are only ninth in Ligue 1 but last night they dominated central midfield for long periods and had the better of most of the game. There was a promising first half from Aaron Ramsey who ran out of steam later on, and Santos is no doubt a promising player but is too prone to inexperienced runs and too often the cause of gaping holes on the left side of Arsenal’s defence.
So what will happen when Van Persie is rested, or injured, which he will undoubtedly need to be? Surely Wenger cannot let his team be as mediocre and slow as they were against Marseille, because that really will get them nowhere. Van Persie is the club’s most influential figure, behind Wenger, and in the absence of Jack Wilshere, carries the hopes of the club, but somehow they must assemble their team to be just as good without him. Arshavin’s rapid decline as a forward and Marouane Chamakh’s recent dire performances make it much harder in the striking front, but with a strong goalkeeper in Scezney, a defence that has much potential, and exciting attacking players such as Ramsey and Walcott, it is very possible that Arsenal can carry on their positive performances, should Van Persie not be involved.
Arsenal supporters are understandably frustrated at their side’s performance, and it is a worry for Wenger looking at them perform without Van Persie, because Arsenal were poor. He is pivotal to the club and yes, Arsenal do have enough potential to perform as well as they are at the moment without him, but this needs a lot of work, and in reality, Van Persie is the man they need to keep fit.