Van Persie's flying start is no surprise to Wenger
The Dutchman’s former manager at Arsenal admits the club’s knowledge of their old striker is no guarantee of keeping him quiet, writes RICHARD WILLIAMS
ARSENE WENGER makes no pretence about it: the knowledge gained from eight years of working with Robin van Persie will be of only limited use when he sends his defenders out to face the Dutch striker at Old Trafford today. It is the measure of Van Persie’s special quality, the Frenchman pointed out this week, that no amount of analysis can guarantee a way of keeping him quiet.
“A little bit,” Wenger said with a shrug when asked whether those years of familiarity had helped him to prepare his players for the task of nullifying a player who left Arsenal for Manchester United on the eve of the new season.
“But Robin van Persie’s great quality is that in a fraction of a second he understands where to go,” he said. “You can talk and talk and talk but a defender has to read that at the same time. His speed of analysing the little pockets around the box is absolutely exceptional. They know him well because they played against him in training. But in the game itself it’s a question of timing. How quickly will you read it as well as he reads it?”
Although generous in his assessment of his former captain, Wenger’s words were delivered with an understandably sombre tone. The financial coup in collecting £24 million (€30 million) for a player who had cost £2.75 million eight years ago could not mask the lingering disappointment at losing a man he had turned into not just the most potent striker in England but also into a leader whose 30 goals in the last campaign not only made him the Premier League’s top scorer but were the reason Arsenal are competing in the Champions League for the 15th year in a row.
Nor could Wenger deny that Old Trafford is providing a suitable setting for the gifts of the man he calls the “most efficient” striker in the Premier League, a judgment backed up by statistics showing that Arsenal’s shots-to-goals ratio has deteriorated since his move, while United’s has improved. He was not surprised, he said, that Van Persie had adapted so quickly, with nine goals in his first dozen competitive matches.
“At Manchester United he has good players around him and Robin is very intelligent around the box,” he said. “His runs are fantastic, his technique is absolutely amazing, so I’m not surprised.”
Each word of that testimonial is a pinprick of pain in the heart of the manager and supporters of Arsenal, where Van Persie arrived from Feyenoord in 2004 as a 21-year-old winger who had scored 15 goals in 61 Eredivisie matches but had yet to make his full international debut. He was known to have great technical gifts but a reputation for an uncertain temperament had trailed him since his schooldays – when, as he has said, he spent as much time serving suspensions as behind a desk.