By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
One man will be the centre of attention when Manchester United host Arsenal at a lunchtime on Saturday. Whatever way you slice it, dice it or stubbornly insist you’re better off without him, all eyes will be on Robin van Persie.
From the day Roy Keane verbally tore Patrick Vieira a new one in the Highbury tunnel to Pizzagate, it’s been a fierce rivalry. But the Dutchman’s decision that his best chance of needing a trophy cabinet lay away from north London and subsequent defection adds to the simmering disdain the clubs have for each other.
The transfer fee of £24 million made it a move that could be viewed in a number of ways, depending on your own personal preference. It was (a) a wise Fergie punt that could pay off in spectacular style (b) a pointless risk on an injury prone 29 year old (c) another Arsene Wenger masterstroke of cashing in on an aging force at the right time. It remains to be seen which view works out, but the early evidence looks good for Manchester United fans. The Paddy Power Blog has taken a look at RVP’s career and pondered about his chances of being a hit at United.
Robin Van Persie’s goal record in the Premier League [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Van Persie’s early career with the Gunners moved about as quickly as an Arsenal centre back. With Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg still at the club, his chances are more limited than an Aston Villa midfielder. He’s resigned to lots of substitute appearances, but he still manages to get among the goals, scoring 10 in his debut campaign. The next few seasons are similar to that, only with the addition of more injuries. He’s bumbling around with roughly a goal every three and half games which is good – brilliant even if you’re Fernando Torres – but far from prolific.
RVP finally gets to hog the limelight
Things start to look up for RVP not long after Thierry Henry decides to jump ship to Barcelona. With the Frenchman no longer around to throw hissy fits every time a team-mate doesn’t pass to him, RVP gets his chance to hog some of the limelight and his strike rate gradually improves. Sadly one thing that remains constant is his brittle legs. More frequent knocks confine him to the sofa for long periods, but when his does play he looks like more of a goalscoring threat.
Then – thanks to the medical team putting him back together again – comes the most productive spell of van Persie’s career. Starting on New Year’s Day 2011, he embarks on a period of sustained fitness and goalscoring that pretty much continues to this day. Despite missing parts of the season through injury, he finishes the 2010/11 season with 22 goals from 33 appearances.
The new season comes around and much to the football world’s surprise, he maintains both his form and fitness. He begins the season well and falls narrowly short of Alan Shearer’s record of 35 Premier League goals in a calendar year, but his form is imperious and almost enough to compensate for some of Arsenal’s other shortcomings. As the focus of Arsenal’s attack, he finishes the season with an impressive average of 0.77 goals a game, giving Gunners fans hope of a bright future ahead. And maybe even a trophy.
Another cunning stunt by Fergie
And then that familiar feeling for Arsenal fans. Talk of stalling contract extension negotiations starts to emerge and it snowballs. Rumours of interest from the billionaires at Manchester City makes sense, but the chances of him going to United must be non-existent, surely? Whatever Fergie whispered into his hear did the trick and the previously unthinkable became the currently unpalatable.
The question is, is this just a short-term spell of good form and good health or is it a glimpse of what could be a long and immensely successful autumn of his career? Only three months into his Manchester United career and it’s looking good. At Old Trafford, he may not be playing alongside a better standard of player, but he is playing alongside a more consistent standard of player. It looks like van Persie is reaching his peak at the end of his 20s and he could provide painful proof of that to Arsenal fans this Saturday.