Van Persie 'trick a treat as Gunners banish demons
Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5
ONLY £2.75m. That's a signing-on fee nowadays, not a transfer fee. Arsenal's purchase of Robin van Persie seven years ago must rank as one of Arsene Wenger's greatest coups in the transfer market.
When fit, the Dutch striker has few peers in the art of spiriting a ball past a goalkeeper.
Issues surrounding Van Persie's discipline helped prompt Feyenoord to sell at such a low price. It was still a fabulous deal, half the price that Chelsea were paying PSV Eindhoven for Mateja Kezman at the same time.
Wenger has since spent substantially on attacking talent, including Andrei Arshavin (£15m), Theo Walcott (£9m), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£12m), Gervinho (£10m) and Chu-Young Park (£5m).
None can match the value-for-money of Van Persie, whose hat-trick was the gleaming icing on a fruitcake of a London derby.
"I feel I can score every time I go out on to the pitch,'' he said. "It's just the best feeling to have. It doesn't really matter who we play, we always create chances so that means I always have a go. Then it's up to me to score.''
Space and opportunities are created for Van Persie by the likes of Gervinho and Walcott, who both impressed at the Bridge.
"We've got a striker who is on top of the world at the moment and, for me and Gervinho, playing alongside him is a dream,'' said Walcott of Van Persie. "He can make your game look so easy.
"It shows how important he is to this team. He's had so many injuries, but when you have a fit Robin through the whole season you will be a totally different team.
"I'm not saying he makes us a one-man show but Robin gives us that totally different dimension. So we're happy, hoping he stays fit and keep on banging in those goals every week."
It needs remembering that Van Persie and his company will not always face defences as dishevelled as Chelsea's, that injury to the Dutchman would be felt grievously by all the team and that they remain short of the depth of quality of Manchester's finest.
For all the understandable euphoria sluicing through Arsenal fans, they know that question marks persist over Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. And their goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesney, could easily have been dismissed for catching Ashley Cole.
It also needs reiterating that Arsenal have Thomas Vermaelen to return alongside Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna to return at right-back while Jack Wilshere will eventually replace Mikel Arteta in midfield.
Aaron Ramsey, who was the first to embrace Van Persie at the final whistle, deserves to start, having progressed rapidly since the inevitable tentative steps taken on recovering from that awful broken leg.
Responding to Frank Lampard's headed opener for Chelsea, Ramsey's clever pass between John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic released Gervinho, who squared the ball for Van Persie to begin his masterclass of finishing.
Wenger spoke of the traits that have propelled Van Persie to his peak.
"Calm, experience and, first of all, top quality,'' said the Arsenal manager. "He's maybe the right age as well (28) where you analyse quickly the weaknesses of the defence.
"You know how to take advantage of the strengths of your partners. In the first goal Robin knows that once Gervinho is through no one will catch him. So he comes with him.
"He has scored 27 goals in 26 Premier League games and still people tell me he is not a centre-forward. How many goals does a centre-forward need to score?
"The intelligence of his movement is so exceptional and his confidence is so high that he takes advantage of every situation. The captaincy has contributed."
Chelsea's captain then became involved. In a game riddled with errors, Terry restored Chelsea's lead when Mertesacker froze before Santos equalised when Jose Bosingwa went walkabout.
Arsenal fans' journey towards a noisy nirvana continued when Walcott demonstrated his sharpened game-craft. Knocked over by Cole, he kept going, darted between Ivanovic and Terry and beat Petr Cech at the near-post. Cole, Ivanovic, Terry and Cech are all experienced internationals who looked ingenues here.
As well as the goal, Walcott delivered one of his best all-round displays, also assisting Johan Djourou with Cole's incursions.
"I believe that he has become a more complete player,'' reflected Wenger.
"He is not a liability any more defensively. He does his defensive job. At the start that makes you (have) heavy legs when you win the balls back but now he has got used to it. He does the job defensively and is dangerous going forward.''
In one of the daftest games of the season, Juan Mata showed why Andre Villas-Boas has bought so well with a driven leveller. Arsenal simply went through the gears however, Van Persie exploiting Terry's slip and then shaping to go left before gliding the other side of Cech.
A clinical streak pervades the touch of Van Persie, who finished the game by deftly controlling Arteta's ball and then hammering it past Cech.
The game was seen out by Koscielny making some important blocks. He can get bullied, and was fortunate that Didier Drogba was suspended, but the 26-year-old is improving. "He has all you need,'' said Wenger.
"He is a bit less impressive because of the size. He is not 6ft 3in but he is quick, sharp and reads the game well."
For Villas-Boas, this was a chastening afternoon but he must not be diverted from his avowed intent to make Chelsea more entertaining, and introduce new players.
Oriol Romeu for John Obi Mikel, giving the back-line more protection?
Chelsea's defence certainly needs some intensive drilling. (© Daily Telegraph, London)