Van Persie makes compelling case to succeed Bergkamp

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The Independent Football

There was, in the stress-free demolition of Sparta Prague, further compelling evidence that Robin van Persie may be able to do exactly what manager Arsène Wenger hoped he would - and many feared was impossible. The 22-year-old may, just, be the replacement for Dennis Bergkamp.

It is a succession that has concerned Wenger for some time. Both players are also acutely aware that they will be inevitably linked - not just because of the position, and nationality, they share but because Van Persie has never made any secret of the fact that the player he admires most is his fellow Dutchman.

"He's the right example for me," said Van Persie after scoring his two goals against Sparta. "And I'm happy to be around him every day to learn."

Indeed, in his post-match comments, Wenger offered an interesting observation when discussing Van Persie's impact from the bench. "When you look at his goal-scoring rate, with the number of minutes he has played and the number of goals he has scored, it's amazing."

The statistics bear that out. Van Persie has scored five times this season, at an average of 120 minutes per goal, and has 15 goals overall for Arsenal, at an average of 159 minutes per goal since he arrived at the club for £2.75m from Feyenoord in June last year. Jose Antonio Reyes, meanwhile, has scored 18 goals at a rate of 282 minutes per goal.

Indeed, Van Persie's figures, a goal every 1.5 games, stand comparison with the best - Thierry Henry (a goal every 1.6 games). However, as Bergkamp, 36, pointed out: "Sometimes it's easier to come off the bench and change the game, because the pace of the game drops and you're still fresh.

"He's one of those players who can make a difference, creating something for himself and others, and he's shown that more this season than in the past. Robin has probably grown up a bit."

Van Persie has endured a troubled time. On the field there have been two red cards, a petulant streak and, occasionally, a lack of patience. Off it and, more seriously, there were rape allegations - still unresolved - which were made over the summer. It was only after his brace in the Carling Cup against Sunderland last week that Wenger said he detected Van Persie was back to his "normal level". Indeed, Martin Jol, the Tottenham Hotspur coach, was fulsome in his praise of the difference the player made in last Saturday's derby.

That draw sharpened further Arsenal's desire to win the European Cup but Bergkamp played down expectations. "We shouldn't close our eyes to the fact these aren't the biggest teams we've beaten," he said.

Bergkamp still places the League title first - "the other trophies are extras", he said. It is a bonus that Wenger, however, would settle for this season.

A tale of two strikers


Robin Van Persie

Minutes: 2,385, Goals: 15. 159 minutes per goal

Jose Antonio Reyes

Minutes: 5,083, Goals 18. 282.38 minutes per goal