Healthy RVP could carry Arsenal a long way
Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In recent years Arsenal has produced some of the top strikers in the Premiership, with Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor terrorizing defenses throughout England.
Robin van Persie has always had the talent to be the next great Gunners striker, but a series of injuries have robbed the young Dutchman of the chance to fulfill his vast potential.
Van Persie appeared to be on his way during the 2006-07 season as he led Arsenal with 11 goals in league play into the month of February, but a broken metatarsal prematurely ended his season.
The next year, Henry left for Barcelona and it looked like Van Persie would have his chance to claim the role of top striker, but again the injury bug bit, as he suffered a knee injury while on international duty, forcing him to the sidelines for two months.
Van Persie returned midway through the campaign but was never able to get back to full fitness, and he was limited to just 24 appearances in all competitions.
This allowed Adebayor to emerge as Arsenal's top offensive threat, and the Togo international took full advantage, bagging 29 goals.
Robin van Persie has scored seven times in Arsenal's last seven league contests.
Last season Adebayor's play slipped, and it was Van Persie who led the side with 20 goals in all competitions, although he missed out on Arsenal's Champions League semifinal matchup with Manchester United because of a groin injury.
Over the summer, Adebayor was sent to Manchester City for around $40 million, leaving the 26-year-old Van Persie as Arsene Wenger's first-choice striker.
The role didn't take right away for Van Persie, who was used to operating as a second striker, but after three games without a goal, the Dutchman has caught fire, scoring seven times in Arsenal's last seven league contests.
Going from the second striker to the top man may not seem like a big adjustment, but according to Van Persie, it is a switch that he has finally been able to grab a hold of.
"I've had to get used to the new role because I previously played as a second striker and now I'm operating as a main striker, so I needed to find my way in," he told the club's official website.
"To my mind, earlier in the season I lost too much energy working defensively and needed to find the right balance. It's really important for the team that I have enough energy to score goals and make assists, as well as helping out in other ways.
"I feel that in the last few weeks I've found that mix, of having the energy to do my offensive work and contribute defensively.
"It was hard in the first few weeks to really find my way - the second striker and striker are very close to each other on the pitch but at the same time there's such a difference, a massive difference, between the two roles.
"I like it because it's a new challenge for me and if you look at the results and the personal stats of almost every player, everyone has improved with the new system."
There were certainly questions about Arsenal's attack coming into this season, following the departure of Adebayor.
After all, he scored 44 goals in the past two seasons for the north London side, and with Wenger bringing in no new replacement, it was fair to wonder whether production would slip on the offensive end.
No one can question Van Persie's talent, but with his injury history it was easy to understand if fans were a bit apprehensive about hitching their wagon to such a fragile star.
However, Van Persie's play so far this season is a big reason why Arsenal has forced its way into the thick of the title race.
Despite the loss of Adebayor, Arsenal leads the league with 32 goals from 10 games, and if it wasn't for a few late-game collapses on the defensive end, the Gunners could very easily be sitting at the top of the table.
Arsenal last won the league in 2004, and they haven't finished in the top two since 2005, but a lack of truly dominant teams at the top could give them that chance.
Chelsea has looked to be the top team through the first quarter of the season, but they have lost twice and will visit the Emirates Stadium at the end of the month.
Defending champions Manchester United have not yet figured out how to adequately replace the departed Cristiano Ronaldo, and Liverpool appears to be in shambles at the moment as they sit in sixth place and have lost five of their first 11 league matches.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Gunners is that they usually start well but are unable to grind out a result when things get tough.
They are easily the most entertaining side when everything is going right, but they have lacked that one player who is capable of producing one individual moment to win a match.
Captain Cesc Fabregas is in top form this season, and the addition of Andrei Arshavin last January has helped, but a healthy Van Persie could be the missing piece that keeps Arsenal in the hunt over the course of an entire season.