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Robin van Persie, when healthy, is amongst the best false nines on earth. He combines physical presence, movement, creative ability, and shot technique in one package in a way that most strikers don't. If it wasn't for balky ankles, one could imagine his name coming on the same breath as Bergkamp or Henry. But.
Ankles matter in football, sadly.
van Persie missed the first two matches of the season, like teammate Cesc Fabregas, due to his participation all the way to the finish of the 2010 World Cup. His first start came in the third match away to Blackburn, where he hurt his ankle.
He wouldn't see the pitch again until late November, annoyingly. Thankfully, Arsenal had a capable deputy in Marouane Chamakh, but there were times when van Persie was missed. When he returned, though, after warmups against Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur, he went to work.
Against Partizan, he converted a penalty kick as Arsenal prevailed 3-1 at the Emirates, but the real return came in his excellent play in the 3-1 triumph against Chelsea. If that was a good match, though, January was classic Robin. He scored against Birmingham and Leeds, had a goal and an assist against West Ham, and then unleashed a hat-trick in a comprehensive match against Wigan. When the month finished, he had racked up seven goals.
January was nice; February was also nice. Six goals in five matches, and none more important and exciting than the geometrical incision against Barcelona to level the score at the Emirates, setting the stage for the biggest win in the history of that ground. Unfortunately, the return leg was less exciting for him, as he was sent off for failing to stop his leg moving while the ref was inhaling, a sound he really should have picked up on over the screams of 90,000 human beings.
The rest of the season sort of feels like a blur of sadness now, but van Persie did his part. He filled in as captain of the side when Cesc Fabregas was out injured and continued his rich scoring run, finding the net eight times before the end of the year. He scored what should've been the winner against Liverpool, equalizers against Bolton and West Brom, and goals against Spurs, Blackpool, and Aston Villa.
18 goals from January 1 to season's end tied a record held by Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo. Goals in nine successive away matches was a feat previously unheard of. These are, of course, fine achievements, but they fail to encompass what van Persie brings to the side. His dropping deep and acting as the axis of the Arsenal midfield/attack pinwheel, his ability to play with his back to the net if he needs to, his passing range, his skill with the ball combined with his runs off of it, and his tenacious attitude in front of goal mean that he is the keystone of Arsenal's front line, especially in the absence of Fabregas. Although Chamakh has shown ability to make intelligent runs, pull defenders out of position, and link play effectively, he has little of van Persie's ruthlessness when presented an opportunity to shoot at present.
van Persie finished the season with 22 goals and 7 assists in 33 matches, a season only bested by his 20 and 15 in 44 in 2008/09. If he can play in 35-40 matches a year, he IS the 20-25 goal scorer Arsenal need, but he's more than just a poacher. Sadly, his health is suspect, and he's not getting much younger. If Chamakh can improve his finishing, though, Arsenal should have very little problem at striker for the coming year.
Ted's grade: :D
Beltran's grade: A+