Arsenal: Time For Arsene To Unleash Prolific Park Chu-Young

He can't stop scoring for South Korea so isn't it about time Wenger let Park prove himself in the Premier League before other strikers head off to the African Cup of Nations...
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You might be surprised to read that since the start of the current season in August, no other Premier League player has scored more senior international goals than Arsenal's Park Chu-Young.

The South Korean captain has managed eight in his last five appearances for his country - a hat-trick against Lebanon, one against Kuwait, two against Poland and two against the UAE.

Arguably much weaker opposition than he's likely to face with Arsenal, but that international form makes it even more difficult to understand why, by Christmas, Arsene Wenger still hadn't handed the summer signing his Premier League debut.

At the time of writing he's made four first-team appearances, three in the Carling Cup and one in the UEFA Champions League, scoring one goal, against Bolton on 25th October.

Even allowing for the sensational form of Robin van Persie, in a formation that only accommodates one central striker, Park Chu-Young would surely have expected more opportunities to show what he can do.

This isn't a young player learning his trade, we're talking about the current captain of an international side that narrowly missed out on a place in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals and finished 3rd in the 2011 Asian Cup.

Park Chu-Young was also one of few shining lights in the Monaco side relegated from Ligue 1 last season, finishing as the club's top-scorer with 12 goals in 33 games.

That goals return looks better when you consider many French sides adopted a safety first, defensive approach last season – with Ligue 1 averaging fewer goals per-game (2.34) than any of Europe’s other top leagues.

Current French champions Lille were so impressed that they worked very hard to secure his signature during the summer of 2011 - it had been reported that an initial fee of €2.7m had been agreed, with a further €1.8m due if Park was excused national service in South Korea.

It was even claimed the player had undergone the first part of his medical with Lille before an eleventh hour intervention from Arsenal, who're said to have offered both Monaco and the player better financial terms.

I've no idea if he's ever thought about it, but you have to wonder whether Park Chu-Young now regrets choosing North London over Northern France.

It means the second half of this season is crucial to the career of a player who has sometimes been accused of lacking a killer instinct.

Even in the first days of his time in England I felt some sympathy for the striker, whose arrival came during a turbulent time at the Emirates, with supporters calling for heavy investment in star names after the big money sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

Phone-ins and message boards were littered with contributions from people bemoaning, what was perceived to be, a perfect example of where Arsene Wenger was going wrong in his attempts to take Arsenal forward.

The most polite comments said Park Chu-Young didn't excite as a signing for Arsenal – the more derogatory remarks used his name to poke fun at Arsenal’s transfer policy…”too young” etc.

The reality is that Park Chu-Young isn’t ‘too young’, at 26 he should be in his prime and has already played at two World Cup Finals.

I believe he was a victim of circumstance, and the reaction to his transfer would have been totally different had it happened six years ago, when Arsenal were still winning silverware and the patience of supporters hadn’t been so severely tested.

Only Arsene Wenger will know whether his handling of the player has been affected by that negative reaction, but you'd have to imagine it's unlikely given the Frenchman's steely resolve and unwavering self-belief.

That said, it's also hard to believe that a player he was so determined to snatch from Lille's grasp at the last minute, can have impressed so little in training that Wenger's not prepared to expose him to the rigors of Premier League football.

Perhaps 'The Professor', known for his studious attention to detail, has always had the African Cup of Nations in mind when it comes to Park Chu-Young.

The tournament starts on 21st January and ends on 12th February, depriving Wenger of two of his forwards at a crucial stage of the season.

When you include pre-tournament training, Arsenal could potentially be without Gervinho (Ivory Coast) and Marouane Chamakh (Morocco) for up to a month.

It'll further increase the goal-scoring burden on Robin van Persie, who Wenger will want to manage very carefully when you consider his previous record with injury.

Despite the Dutchman's astonishing form in front of goal, it should be remembered he's only averaged 22 league appearances per-season since signing for Arsenal in 2004.

Press speculation suggests that Thierry Henry is being considered as a loan option to help Arsenal through this time, but surely that would send all the wrong messages to someone like Park, who must be straining at the leash to prove himself.

After all, this is a man who, even at 26, doesn't have time on his side due to rules on national service in his home country.

Under South Korean law, all able bodied men over twenty have a duty to serve twenty-one months in the military before the age of thirty - unless he's unexpectedly excused, it's likely to mean Park leaving Europe in 2013, with a return to the continent presumably unlikely after national service.

It means the second half of this season is crucial to the career of a player who has sometimes been accused of lacking a killer instinct.

We wait to see whether he'll get the chance to prove otherwise and finally silence conspiracy theorists, who alleged from the start that Arsenal's interest in Park was more about profile in the Far East than ability on the pitch.

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