Van Persie carving out place in pantheon
Arsenal 1 Everton 0
If Tony Adams' indomitable contribution to Arsenal's history is best captured by that snapshot of euphoric triumph against Everton, his arms outstretched in victory, and Thierry Henry's by that snarling, leonine pout, then perhaps this is the instant for which Robin van Persie should be cast in bronze.
It would be a difficult commission, of course, one worthy of Myron: the striker's head bent low, his torso swivelled on its axis, his leg outstretched, contrapposto, his body all harmony and balance and proportion. It would require a golden ratio for a golden goal, one to grace the ages and see off David Moyes' dogged side. The piece would demand devotion, and love. Still, Van Persie knows just the man: his father, of course, is a sculptor.
"It takes exceptional talent, because it is difficult to score when the ball comes from behind," said his manager, Arsène Wenger. "The timing has to be right, you have to lean forward very quickly, your body shape has to be right, so you don't cut across it too much. Everybody who has played football understands that is the most difficult technical movement for a striker."
And yet it is one that seemingly came naturally, almost easily to Van Persie. That should not, perhaps, be a surprise: he has now scored 33 goals in this calendar year, just three short of Alan Shearer's all-time Premier League record. Wenger admits that, when the 28-year-old pulls off the shoulder of his marker, his ruthlessness is such that he now expects him to score.
That is Van Persie now, of course, the bastion of reliability. He occupies the same psychological role as Henry and Adams before him, the man the club looks to when inspiration is required. It is a post his manager is adamant the Dutch international revels in. "He is not in a period where he is desperate for a goal, and that is very important for a goalscorer," said Wenger. "The second thing is he is more mature – when you are 22 and don't have the best of games you rush, but at 28 you keep focused.
"But the third thing is that he knows in a game like this he has the responsibility to score, because nobody else had scored after 70 minutes."
Or, in truth, looked like doing so. This was rapidly turning into one of those profligate days which have so plagued Arsenal in recent years. As their hosts grew more hapless, Everton's confidence mushroomed. They wrested a modicum of control from their hosts. Moyes' side, though, are chronically flawed. It is now more than two games since they had a shot on target. "I asked Thierry on the way in if he fancied a game," said the Scot. "If he does, let me know." He was not joking.
Wenger, on the other hand, was able to dismiss the inevitable question over his countryman's return by insisting Henry is due back at his parent club, the New York Red Bulls, after a training stint with Arsenal, on 15 January. That, like his place in the Premier League's top four, he owed entirely to Van Persie.
The idea of the Dutchman welcoming that sort of duty, of course, is one that does not sit easily for those who knew him in his younger days. Henry, as he attended the unveiling of his own statue as part of the club's 125th birthday celebrations, acknowledged it had been "tough" for Wenger to control his rash charge when Van Persie arrived in England. That his striker has had to change, to grow, though, is not something the Arsenal manager believes is to his detriment.
"Robin was nervous, impatient [when he first arrived] like every young player, though of course strikers are a special category," he said. "And it is not like Thierry was so easy at the start! Robin can be impulsive, but he listens to people, thinks about it and responds, but does not bear a grudge after. You can be hard with him but if you are right, he [will admit it].
"I give the most credit in my job to the people who manage to change, because that is the most difficult thing. We are all set in a certain way and the people who change are the ones who make the biggest improvement in life."
Few, though, make an improvement quite so marked as Van Persie. Arsenal's erstwhile enfant terrible now stands on the cusp of history. "The way Robin is playing, he wants to be one of those legends as well," said an admiring Walcott. "He would admit himself that he was in and out of the game. That is the difference. Give him a chance and he scores when he wants, as the fans say. That is one of the best goals I have seen in a long time."
The sort of goal, in fact, that warrants preserving for posterity, a monument more everlasting than bronze.
Scorer: Arsenal Van Persie 70.
Substitutes: Arsenal Miquel (Vermaelen, 82), Rosicky (Gervinho, 83), Frimpong (Walcott, 90). Everton
Distin 5 (Saha, 64), McAleny (Neville, 76), Gueye (Bilyaletdinov, 77). Booked: Arsenal Arteta, Ramsey. Everton Coleman, Distin.
Man of the match Van Persie.
Match rating 6/10. Possession: Arsenal 55% Everton 45%. Attempts on target: Arsenal 7 Everton 1.
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire).
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