Van Persie: 'I don't want to waste any more of my time on Adebayor'

Arsenal last won silverware in 2005, and the pressure is growing. Robin van Persie tells Glenn Moore why he – and the lauded young Gunners – must now deliver
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The Independent Online

Robin van Persie is sitting in one of the new apartments built within the frame of Archibald Leitch's listed East Stand at Highbury Stadium.

From Avenell Road the art deco façade is unchanged, and inside you still walk through the marble halls past the bust of Herbert Chapman, but the flat is all blondwood, white walls, glass and steel. Van Persie looks out of the full length window towards what was once the pitch, but is now a similarly modern garden, with hard landscaping, water features and grasses.

"It's nice, very modern. I've asked for a brochure," he says. Then he adds: "But my first thoughts when I saw it were of the memories: My first goal, my first two years here, which were the last two years of Highbury."

Van Persie is not, however, here to dwell on the past, except where it can be used as a signpost to the future. A case in point is today's visit to Fulham. Last season Arsenal lost 1-0 at Craven Cottage and, unlike so many of their setbacks, no one contested it, no one suggested Arsenal deserved more.

He recalls sitting on the team coach afterwards thinking, "They were better than us". He says. "It hurt. It was a shock. This kind of thing didn't used to happen much. In the past, even if we lost, we were usually the better team."

Looking back now he reflects: "That was a bad day. Fulham played really well, we did not. We would not have made a goal if we had played for another four or five hours. It was the first time I had had this feeling in an Arsenal shirt. I was gutted.

"We did not have a team meeting as such, afterwards, but we spoke to each other. I had a chat with Gaël [Clichy], with Cesc [Fabregas], with a few others. We said, 'This is not really happening, we need to step up a level.' And we came back quite well after that game [Arsenal won their next three games, 3-0, 4-0, 3-1]. Now we want to put right the memory of that day at Fulham."

There is also a desire to redress the perceived injustice of this season's defeats in Manchester, and, for Van Persie, to finally put behind him the stamp in the City game by his former friend and team-mate, Emmanuel Adebayor. The latter continues to insist he apologised on the pitch, but Van Persie is having none of it.

"He didn't apologise on the pitch. I've not had a personal apology and I do not expect one anymore. Do I care? I don't really want to speak about it any more. I made a statement after the game [in which he described Adebayor's actions as 'mindless and malicious' and accused him of 'setting out to hurt me' and 'showing a real lack of class'] which I really believed in. Those were my feelings and they still are.

"I don't want to waste any more time on Mr Adebayor. For me he is punished and that is the main thing. I think he showed how he is in the last couple of weeks. If I look in the mirror, I don't think I can blame myself."

As for the matches, he has mixed feelings. "Against Man United I felt we played well, but in the end we did not win. If I score early in the second half it is a different game [Arsenal would have gone 2-0 up]. In the end we get nothing, which was harsh. United did not play better, or have more chances. At City we played all right but in eight minutes we conceded three goals. You lose every game if you do that. But if I score the one which hit the post it is 4-3 with five minutes to go."

"If I score". A theme is developing here. Van Persie has scored once this season, at City. He knows this is not good enough even if he is playing a more creative role than did Adebayor as centre-forward last season.

"We have to look at ourselves, and be honest. I should score more goals. I have been missing too many chances lately, that is something for me to work hard on. I can do it. Last year I scored 20 in all competitions, I have scored more than 60 for Arsenal, it is just a period. I have had the chances. I am not putting them away. I was in the build-up for the goals against Wigan, which is good, but I also had three really good chances. You should score at least one at this level."

He is as tough on his team-mates: "People talk about us being a young side. Yes we are mid-20s, early 20s, but we don't lack experience. Gaël, Cesc, myself, [Manuel] Almunia, [William] Gallas, Bac [Bacary Sagna], we all have experience. Denilson played more than 50 games last year. We can't hide behind that anymore. It's not that, it's about how much do we really want it?"

While Van Persie makes an oblique reference to what a "massive achievement" success would be, as "Spurs, Chelsea, Man U spent loads of money", he does not wish to use Arsenal's relative parsimony as an excuse. Nor will he publicly criticise it even if his feelings are clear. "I have an opinion, but I can't share it with everyone because I do trust the boss [Arsène Wenger] and Mr [Ivan] Gazidis [the chief executive] to make the right choices. I want to play with the best players, but I am not going to say what they should do with their money."

Instead Arsenal bring through their own, adding the occasional judicious signing such as Thomas Vermaelen. According to Van Persie this low-key strategy is supported by a conscious effort by senior players to integrate newcomers. Whereas the old Wimbledon used to burn the clothes of initiates Van Persie had a very different welcome. "When I first came I was 20. Kolo [Touré] came to me and said, 'See me as your older brother because I know it is hard for you, you don't speak the language, it is a new country, you are a bit nervous maybe. If there is anything, come to me."

While Touré looked out for Van Persie Dennis Bergkamp mentored him. Van Persie now provides active support to the Dutch teenager Nacer Barazite, the young Englishman Jack Wilshere, and the Frenchman Armand Traoré. "These are players who have lots of qualities, but still need to find their way in football, and in life as well," he said.

There is also advice for Vermaelen. "I said to Thomas, 'You have just come into a warm family, no one will hassle you, everyone is really happy you are here.' After two weeks he said, 'Robin, you are absolutely right, everyone is so nice, so kind, I feel like I am in a warm family'."

It is all so lovey-dovey you begin to wonder whether Arsenal have gone so soft the ghosts of Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams and Martin Keown will be stirring amid the Verbena bonariensis outside. Indeed Keown, having been at the development's formal opening ceremony an hour or so earlier, could now be outside with nostrils flaring, about to storm the door down and introduce some menace and grit.

He need not worry. Van Persie adds, "I'm not always nice. I am sometimes direct. I can be quite hard, and they can be hard on me as well. It is about 'do we trust each other and have the same target in our minds'."

The target is a trophy, any trophy after four fallow years. Arsenal have been close in that time, reaching the Champions League final and leading the Premier League two seasons ago. Then it all went horribly wrong one spring afternoon at St Andrew's. Eduardo broke his leg, Gallas mounted a one-man protest and Clichy conceded a last-minute penalty that began a run of three points from 12.

"We lost the title in that game," said Van Persie. "I spoke to [Edwin] Van der Sar afterwards and he said he was very surprised because he felt we would bounce back, but we did not."

Is the squad in which Clichy, a bit-part player then, is the only survivor from the club's last championship in 2004 more resilient now? Who knows? Van Persie does not pretend he does. "The first time for everything is a bit scary, but if you are a true sportsman you go for it. I have won a few trophies and I know you have to look at it game by game and not think about the consequences. That's hard. You look at the table and think, 'if we win this one... if they do that...', but it will never work out like that. It is a race and when you get close to the finish everyone gets nervous, everyone on this planet."

First Arsenal, already adrift of Chelsea, have to get back into the race, starting with a victory at the Cottage. "We're under pressure, but I'm used to that," he says, "there's always pressure at the top." There is such relish in his voice at the challenge you can almost imagine Chapman's bust nodding approvingly at the bottom of the stairs.

My Other Life

Robin van Persie is among several Arsenal players to have, like Theo Walcott, contributed to the exhibition mounted by the Willow Foundation, the charity founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson. In Van Persie's case he is following a family tradition: both his parents are artists and he has their work on the walls of his home.

His father, Bob, also has a specially commissioned piece inside the Emirates of a crowd scene, made from old Arsenal magazines.

Van Persie believes his parents' belief in artistic expression – they always encouraged him to be a free thinker – has influenced his football. "Artists have their own style and I am like that, too," he said.

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