Saturday 29 April 2017

Arsenal have no substitute for Van Persie's class

ARSENAL 3 STOKE CITY 1

Conrad Leach

They say there is no substitute for quality. The problem was that yesterday at the Emirates the quality remained among the substitutes until the 66th minute.

Up to then these teams, both of whom are in European competition, were level. It's just that, if you had landed in North London from Mars, you wouldn't have been able to tell who was in the Champions League and who was in the Europa League.

But then enter, stage front, left and centre, Robin van Persie and the difference became clear.

With each game that goes by, the Dutchman's value to Arsenal increases, exponentially, even as his contract, which expires in 2013, winds down.

That is because at the moment it is his contribution that keeps the Gunners competitive. His two goals last weekend ensured victory against Sunderland and here against Stoke he was the difference.

To great surprise he was not part of the starting XI, Arsene Wenger explaining afterwards that his leading player was feeling the effects of a busy week and could have been left out completely.

The effects of leaving Van Persie out were clear. Without him, Arsenal were ordinary and directionless, and lacking authority anywhere on the pitch.

Marouane Chamakh was given his first league start of the season and with it he had the chance to shine. Instead the Moroccan's performance only focused the spotlight on Van Persie.

Within a minute of being introduced, Van Persie (28) created a goal-scoring chance out of nothing, putting in a cross that was just too high for Laurent Koscielny.

His arrival sent an air of tangible expectation around the Emirates and a frisson of fear in the Stoke defence.

Things had been looking desperate for Arsenal, who won 1-0 against Marseille in the Champions League, thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Aaron Ramsey. He was one of the few players to rise above the ordinary here.

But there may be a good reason for that. Playing Stoke brings with it particularly bitter memories for the Welsh midfielder. It was at the Britannia early last year that his career looked in doubt after he broke his leg in a challenge with Ryan Shawcross.

Now he is fully fit and stood out ahead of the likes of Mikel Arteta and a stodgy-looking Theo Walcott with his range of movement and passing.

Ramsey set up Gervinho's goal that gave Arsenal the lead. His neat lob found Gervinho unmarked, and he beat Asmir Begovic with ease.

Stoke regained parity seven minutes later. After Peter Crouch was fouled by Koscielny, the striker was on the end of a well-worked free-kick. Dean Whitehead, Matthew Upson and Jonathan Walters all kept the ball in the air long enough to find Crouch, who tapped in from a yard.

But then the Van Persie show started. His first came when Gervinho burst into the area and he found the Dutchman, who squeezed his shot past Begovic at the near post.

Nine minutes later, after a move involving Andrey Arshavin and Gervinho, Van Persie had his second -- and his 30th goal in 36 league and cup games since January. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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