Van Persie Breathes Life Back Into Arsenal

After a shaky start to the new term, and the loss of key players in the summer have Arsenal found an on field leader who can drag them back to winning ways?
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After a very worrying start to the season, things are finally looking up for Arsenal. Slowly but surely, the Gunners are on the up.

This is thanks in no small part to Robin van Persie’s impressive goal-scoring efforts – he’s scored 7 goals in 9 league appearances including one as a substitute, yesterday against Stoke.

Van Persie didn’t do it all on his own against the Potters – he applied the finishing touches to two nice Arsenal moves, but his introduction helped them on their way, and he helped bring out the best in some of his team-mates.

In particular, Gervinho; the Ivorian had already grabbed the opener, but had otherwise been quiet. When van Persie came on, he suddenly looked inspired. Mikel Arteta picked him out, and he held off Wilkinson to pull back for the Dutchman to score Arsenal’s second.

A few minutes later he was at it again, making a great run down the left, and after he was picked out by Arshavin set up another goal for his captain. One of the main things Van Persie did that Chamakh didn’t (other than score) was make intelligent movement for his team-mates to take advantage of.

It was remarkable how much Arsenal seemed to improve once their skipper came on – every individual seemed to up their game when he joined the action. Van Persie didn’t carry Arsenal – he got into the right positions and helped his team find their rhythm. It is remarkable how much more fluid and comfortable Arsenal look going forward with their captain up front instead of Chamakh, but that’s just testament to the currently flying Dutchman.

Laurent Koscielny also impressed at the back for Arsenal. He’s had his critics, but this season he has been, on the whole, excellent. Being part of terrible overall defensive performances against Manchester United and Blackburn didn’t help his reputation, but his individual performances have been well worthy of praise. In recent games he’s barely put a foot wrong, and fans are beginning to take to him.

It was remarkable how much Arsenal seemed to improve once their skipper came on – every individual seemed to up their game when he joined the action.

It’s taken a while for him to get recognition – a superb performance against Barcelona against the Emirates last season seemed to be overshadowed by that horrible moment against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final, but now Koscielny’s good games are becoming more consistent, he’s getting the plaudits some would say he’s been deserving of for a while.

Also impressive was Mikel Arteta – the summer signing from Everton has had a relatively quiet start at Arsenal but did well against Stoke, getting himself and his team-mates into good positions with his quick feet and quick thinking. Recently Arteta has been neat in possession but not threatened much in the final third – on Sunday he played a few excellent penetrating balls, one of which resulted in a goal, while the others could well have.

The end-product from Arteta will come as he gets to know his team-mates more and knows where they’ll be and where they’ll want him to be. He’s already showing glimpses of it, and he should only get better for Arsenal.

Another player who put in an encouraging performance was Andrey Arshavin, who like van Persie came off the bench. He was also good against Sunderland as a substitute, but when he played against Marseille in midweek he was largely unimpressive. At the moment he seems more suited to cameo appearances off the bench, although he may prove that theory wrong in time.

He was bright against Stoke, contributing to Arsenal’s all round game and playing an important role in the closing goal, setting Gervinho free down the left. As Arsenal regain their confidence, it may be that Arshavin does too – as the Gunners have been showing signs of getting closer to their best, as has Arshavin, forgetting the performance against Marseille.

At the back, Johan Djourou was another player who showed signs of returning to previous form. At some points of last season he was imperious, and Arsenal fans were considerably upset at losing him to a dislocated shoulder late in the season. When he came back from that he was never the same player, and consistently struggled.

Yesterday, thrown into an unfamiliar right back role like he was against Marseille, Djourou played a tidy game, giving Stoke no joy down his side while also contributing to a few moves going forward. It’s far from him being back to his best, but he’s getting there.

And the same can be said about Arsenal on the whole. As most of the players are steadily improving, as are they as a team, gelling more and more by the game and looking more like the Arsenal we’re used to seeing. Things are coming together nicely for Arsene Wenger, and as players like Thomas Vermaelen return from injury, it should only be improvement seen at the Emirates.

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