Robin Van Persie has always been a talented striker, but perhaps only last season did Arsenal fans truly appreciate what the forward could do when given an uninterrupted stretch of games with which to work. The Dutchman stopped involving himself so much in link-up play, foregoing a deeper role in order to provide the too-often wasteful Gunners with some cutting edge in attack. He scored 30 league goals last season, a huge improvement on his previous best season of 18, and is on track to score 28 this season for Manchester United.
While Arsenal fans are surely pining for his potency right now, while their team languishes outside of the Champions League places, at the time of his sale some fans thought it would be a blessing in disguise. An extremely high fee for an injury-prone, not too young player that was probably going to leave anyway could have been a good move. At the time of his sale Arsenal were far too much a one-man team. Robin Van Persie scored 30 league goals, but the next highest Arsenal player was Theo Walcott with eight. After that came Thomas Vermaelen, a defender. Van Persie scored 41% of Arsenal’s league goals and for a side that wants to consistently challenge the best being so over reliant on a single talisman isn’t right. Additionally, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal are transitioning to a faster, more direct style of play. With speed on both flanks, Mikel Arteta re-cycling possession and Santi Cazorla pulling the strings, being reliant on Van Persie as a focal point may have hampered them.
[quote]Even with the loss of Robin van Persie Arsenal are on course to score around the same amount of goals as last season.[/quote]
In one way, getting rid of Van Persie has had the desired effect. Last season Arsenal averaged around 1.95 goals per game, while this season’s average is 1.92 goals per game – a minor difference. Theo Walcott has already reached double figures in the league and Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, and Olivier Giroud are probably going to join him. Arsenal have a more balanced attack, one that in theory should be harder to nullify by simply man marking a single player.
The Pie Charts below show the goal distribution for Arsenal this season and last:
You can see the clear difference in the goal distribution form 2011/12 is compared to 2012/13 (pie chart below). There are less scorers this season but there’s more of a collective responsibility throughout the players (although there are twelve games to go as of yet). Even with the loss of Robin van Persie Arsenal are on course to score around the same amount of goals as last season. New players Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud have almost covered van Persie’s goal tally with twelve games to go and Theo Walcott has already gone past his total last year. The signs are positive and a little consistency could see Arsenal yet secure a Champions League place next season (although a lot could depend on Rafa Benitez continuing his poor run and Gareth Bale having a dip in form too).
The problem, perhaps lies in Arsenal’s lack of a killer instinct, which Van Persie definitely provided. While the scoring figures show that Arsenal are a force to be reckoned with, teams can see them out relatively safely by defending deep and denying players like Walcott space behind them. It is in these type of games, where chances are few and far between that Van Persie’s penalty box presence would be an asset.
While Van Persie is still a great player, and right now Arsenal are worse for losing him, there is hope that in the long-run the removal of him acting as a moral hazard will reap benefits. Walcott and company have had to start taking more responsibility without the benefit of the Dutchman as a safety net, and with Arsenal’s system more tailored to them, their performances have improved. Only time will tell if this is sustainable, or if Van Persie’s departure really was the end of Arsenal as a Champions League quality side.
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