One-man shows begin to take their toll on Van Persie

 

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The Independent Football

Tonight, at Park Lane's Grosvenor House Hotel, Robin van Persie is expected to be crowned Player of the Year by his peers in the Professional Footballers' Association. It is a deserved tribute, likely to be followed next month by the writers' award, but the timing is cruelly ironic. Van Persie has gone more than 700 minutes since his last goal in open play and it is beginning to look as if his season's endeavours are catching up with him.

That is hardly surprising. This was the 28-year-old's 50th match of a campaign in which he has frequently seemed to be carrying Arsenal on his own. Notoriously prone to injury, the most appearances he had managed in a season was 45. He still has three Arsenal matches to come and the pressing matter of a contract extension at Arsenal to sign, or decline.

Aside from a penalty at Wolves 11 days ago Van Persie has not scored since Arsenal beat Newcastle on 12 March. Even a player as gifted as he is, is vulnerable to the self-doubt goalscorers suffer when the goals dry up. Yesterday, despite several chances, Van Persie rarely looked like scoring his 39th of the season. It was in stark contrast to the previous fixture between these teams, at Stamford Bridge, when Van Persie scored a hat-trick as Chelsea were shredded 5-3. "He has played many games," said Arsène Wenger yesterday. "I think he gave absolutely everything. But it was not easy for him. He was on his own at some stages with not enough support."

Van Persie's day could have been very different had he taken the first, and clearest chance presented him after 14 minutes. Theo Walcott's free-kick floated over to reach the Dutchman at the far post but his usually trusty left foot could only divert the ball on to the outside of the upright.

A minute before the interval Alex Song's lofted pass picked out Van Persie who chested the ball down but his shot was straight at Petr Cech. A free-kick taken nearly 40 yards from goal and lashed high into the stand betrayed Van Persie's growing frustration, as had the booking he received for scything down Michael Essien. There was a wildly optimistic volley from a tight angle followed by a shot he snatched at when off-balance.

Finally, as the clock ticked down, Gervinho released him in the inside-left channel. The angle was tight so Van Persie cut the ball back on to his right. That was the moment to pull the trigger but, when confidence dips, a player prefers to shoot with his strongest foot, so he turned again on to his left and Cech was able to smother the shot.

So, another frustrating game, but unlike after Monday's defeat to Wigan there were no post-match arguments. Then he appeared to act petulantly towards Gary Caldwell, the Wigan captain.

Van Persie used his programme column to state his case. "Not everything is always as it looks," he wrote. "I offered him my left hand and he refused it and acted like the innocent party. There were no bad intentions from my side." Van Persie also stressed his midweek visit to Barcelona's team hotel had been to see Dutch team-mate Ibrahim Afellay. "I was wearing my Arsenal tracksuit. Everyone could see us, there was nothing to hide. I can't imagine anyone conducting transfer negotiations in these circumstances."

Van Persie's barren run

21 March v Everton (a) W 1-0

24 March v Aston Villa (h) W 3-0

31 March v QPR (a) L 1-2

8 April v Man City (h) W 1-0

11 April v Wolves (a) W 3-0*

16 April v Wigan (h) L 1-2

21 April v Chelsea (h) D 0-0

* scored a penalty

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