It’s that time again. The time club managers look forward to like a dinner-date with Hannibal Lecter. It is the time when most of their squad go away on international duty. Excuses are made where possible, players deemed too unfit by their clubs to take part in the fun. Coaches are robbed of valuable time on the training pitch, all desperate to improve the fortunes of their teams. No doubt about it, international football is a nuisance to the wage-paying football clubs.
This period’s nuisance value is perhaps highest right now at the Emirates Stadium where under-fire Arsenal Boss Arsene Wenger will be terrified at the prospect of yet more players reporting back injured. There is however another less talked about reason that clubs dislike their players going away with their national teams. International Managers dare to ask players to do things in a different way, to train and play in a different style, sometimes they even have the nerve to play players in completely different positions to those they occupy with their clubs. The cheek!
One such player is Arsenal’s last remaining established World Class talent, Robin van Persie. Van Persie has become a “number-9” with Arsenal, leading the line for Wenger’s side as the sole striker. That is not always the case with Bert van Marwijk’s Holland where van Persie can operate in a deeper role. In the Netherlands’ last two qualifying games – against San Marino and Finland – van Persie was asked to operate in wider areas and support the more natural focal point, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Huntelaar has finally started to reproduce his Ajax-form in the Bundesliga and has started the season with seven league goals for Schalke in their first eight games, helping guide his team into fourth place. Such form has allowed van Marwijk to get even more out of Robin van Persie and give the side a far greater goal threat. The reward was instant, Huntelaar scored two in Holland’s 11-0 home win against San Marino while van Persie bagged four, outstanding in exploiting space and breaking into the channels. The opposition might not have been up to much but the attack was more fluid and threatening throughout.
Rather than view Holland’s upcoming games with a sense of fear Arsene Wenger would do well to learn from their use of van Persie and find a way to replicate it at the Emirates.
With a similar attacking line up expected in the upcoming games against Moldova and Sweden should Wenger be fearful of his great talent taking time to re-adapt to his club role after the international break? On the contrary, if things had worked out the way the Arsenal Coach planned he would be watching and learning from it. You don’t have to go back too far to find van Persie employed in a similar role for Arsenal.
Where Emmanuel Adebayor was once the club’s more physical presence up front, first Nicklas Bendtner, then Marouane Chamakh were supposed to follow. Their respective failures have forced Wenger’s hand and left the club with no option but to utilise van Persie as the focal point of their attack. On the surface the results don’t look half bad either.
The Rotterdam born Gunner scored 18 Premier League goals last season and is Arsenal’s top scorer this season with three. Impressive enough? Individually no doubt, but as we’re so often reminded football is a team game.
The last ten league games of 2010-11 saw Arsenal score 14 times. Van Persie was responsible for 8 of those goals. Theo Walcott was next best with the meagre total of 2. This also happens to be the period where Arsenal collected just ten points and dropped out of the title race. When van Persie is played as a number 9 he’s capable of scoring for fun. The dilemma facing Wenger is that when this happens, barely anybody else seems to be scoring at all. If Arsenal want to challenge at the top of the table van Persie alone is not enough.
Rather than view Holland’s upcoming games with a sense of fear Arsene Wenger would do well to learn from their use of van Persie and find a way to replicate it at the Emirates. Whether that means nursing the miserable Marouane Chamakh back into form, making better use of the talented Park Chu Young, or lining up a proper number 9 for the January transfer window, Wenger does have options to work with.
It is clear to anyone that has watched the Dutch national side this season that Robin van Persie can offer so much more to a team than just goals. I’m sure Arsene Wenger will be watching his prized asset in action. If the proper attention is paid, what is learned tactically from the upcoming games could offer much needed inspiration to turn Arsenal’s season around.
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