Arsenal turn on style against woeful Wigan


Wigan Athletic 0 Arsenal 4:IF ROBIN van Persie maintains his strike rate, the Premier League record for most goals in a calendar year will be broken at some point this month. The Dutchman made it 32 in 31 appearances in 2011 with the final nail in Wigan’s coffin on Saturday.

Given a fair wind and mild December he will get five more opportunities to surpass Alan Shearer’s high of 36.

It truly has been an annus mirabilis for Van Persie, who arrived in north London as a young shaver seven summers since for a cut-price €3.2 million. In contrast to Shearer, Van Persie is not a traditional centre forward but, like Thierry Henry before him, has been transformed into one of the highest calibre thanks to the keen eye of manager Arsene Wenger.

The similarities with Henry abound. At Feyenoord, Van Persie managed 14 goals in 61 league appearances, and was subjected to dispute over his best position long after his departure. Henry endured similar analytical debate during spells with Monaco and Juventus when, with a one in five goal-to-game ratio, he was sent to pasture on the left. To their respective Arsenal sides, however, they became central figures: fulcrums and captains.

Henry’s Arsenal were Invincibles, his best yearly yield the 34 converted in that golden 2005. Van Persie, meanwhile, is a flourishing work in progress. But after a sixth win in seven unbeaten top-flight outings, Wenger acknowledged their shared attributes.

“At the start they were not goalscorers, they were footballers,” Wenger reflected. “You expect them to create and not have to score too many goals. You have some players like Alan Shearer who was a goalscorer but Thierry and Robin are more link players . . . People ask why Robin plays at centre forward . . . but players like him have the intelligence to be in the right place at the right moment.

“In a way, you wish that 2011 doesn’t finish for him . . . can he get the record? Why not?”

It is unlikely Van Persie will get the chance to add to this season’s tally of 22 goals in 24 matches for club and country on Tuesday night when Arsenal take advantage of early progression from Group F of the Champions League by fielding a shadow XI at Olympiakos.

Stability courses through Arsenal, in stark contrast to two months ago when the club was left reeling after the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. In the first week of October, Arsenal sat two points off relegation; now the two-point gap is to the top four.

“It is always hard when you join a club that has changed five or six players,” said Mikel Arteta, one of the new recruits and beneficiary of Ali al-Habsi’s hurricane-through-a-haystack moment for Arsenal’s 28th-minute opener. “The boss had plenty of confidence in the players”

A second within 90 seconds, Thomas Vermaelen’s innocuous back-post header, doubled the advantage and Wigan’s exposed net invited Gervinho and Van Persie. “He’s so good he makes it look like he’s not trying,” was Arteta’s assessment of the latter.

Wenger’s refusal to compromise his principles is bearing fruit in an attempt to qualify for a 15th consecutive season of elite European football. Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, has ventured down the same route to limited success. “I would say to him ‘enjoy your game’. He is a football lover,” Wenger said.

Wigan sank without trace, back to the bottom. But Martinez said: “We are not going to be judged on a result against Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United.”

Worryingly for the Lancashire club’s fans, meetings with the other two are scheduled before 2011 is out.

Guardian Service