Robin Van Persie has responded to being given the job of Arsenal's unlikely target man by scoring in each of his last five Premier League games. But Arsène Wenger demands much more from his remarkable Dutch striker, predicting he will become the best goalscorer in English football.
Van Persie was not the most obvious candidate to play as the offensive focal point once Emmanuel Adebayor was sold to Manchester City – most would have expected Nicklas Bendtner to fill the role. But Wenger has stuck Van Persie up front – the star nestling on top of his Christmas tree – and the results are bearing fruit. Two neat finishes either side of a glorious solo effort by Cesc Fabregas ensured Arsenal's long-running superiority over their neighbours remained intact.
Wenger, however, is convinced there is much more to come from Van Persie, who grew up playing street football in a tight tarmac enclosure he called The Cage in Kralingen, on the east side of Rotterdam.
"He is much stronger than people expect," the Arsenal manager said. "He uses his body very well. He has learned to play football in the street – he learned at a very young age to push, turn quickly. You don't see him at the start as a target man. But when you play him there, you realise that he has everything of a target man."
Wenger successfully convinced Van Persie, 26, not to leave in the summer, and instead the maturing Dutchman, who recently celebrated the birth of his second child, signed a new contract with Arsenal until 2013. Wenger predicted playing as the club's spearhead will be the making of the man, whose progress last season was hampered by a succession of injuries to groin, thigh and hamstring.
"He is an intelligent player, he turns very quickly, he moves away from the defenders in a very, very perfect way. The timing of his runs are fantastic, that is why I thought he could play there," Wenger said.
"He is 26 years old, he is at an age where a football player becomes really efficient, mature and wants to win things. That is why I believe he can be the best passer in the league and he can be the best goalscorer in the league."
For Van Persie adapting to his new role as a central striker has been tough, coming as it has at the same time as the birth of daughter Dina Layla. "It was hard in the first few weeks to really find my way but I like it because it's a new challenge," he said. "Earlier in the season I lost too much energy working defensively and needed to find the right balance."
Van Persie could easily have had a hat-trick but fired into the side-netting with his left foot when perhaps he should have tried his right. Heurelho Gomes in the Spurs goal also made a fine save to deny Fabregas as Arsenal took control. Tottenham's only real threat at the other end was a curled free-kick by David Bentley that Manuel Almunia tipped over the bar.
The game was lit up by a moment of brilliance by Fabregas, who scored a sublime goal 11 seconds after Tottenham restarted the game after Van Persie's opening goal.
A misplaced pass from Wilson Palacios fell kindly, allowing Fabregas to burst between Palacios and Tom Huddlestone and poke the ball between Ledley King's legs before beating Gomes from the edge of the area.
The Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, looked downcast but his comments were upbeat, insisting Tottenham can still finish in the top four. "People will question us getting into the Champions League but it's nice proving people wrong in life," he said. "I'm not giving up on the Champions League, it's not impossible, it's all about a couple of points."
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Bendtner (Eduardo 37), Van Persie (Ramsey 86), Arshavin (Eboue 78). Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Senderos, Nasri, Gibbs.
Tottenham (4-5-1): Gomes; Corluka (Hutton 86), King, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Bentley, Huddlestone (Bale 55), Palacios, Jenas, Keane (Pavlyuchenko 65); Crouch. Substitutes not used: Button (gk), Dawson, Kranjcar, Woodgate.
Booked: Arsenal Vermaelen Tottenham Crouch.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Man of the match: Van Persie.
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