Monday 1 May 2017

Van Persie's volley the perfect salute

Arsenal 1 Everton 0

Jim White

History was everywhere at the Emirates on Saturday. It was 125 years almost to the day since a bunch of workers at Woolwich munitions factory had formed a football club in order to brighten their routine.

Before kick-off against Everton, the only other institution that can match Arsenal's subsequent length of service in English's top division, some of those who had contributed to the Gunners' story had been invited back to lead the celebrations.

Charlie George, Bob Wilson, Frank McLintock -- it was quite a collection of erstwhile heroes. And, as they stood applauding the current team out on to the pitch, not all of them looked as though they were there at that first game against Eastern Wanderers, on December 11, 1886.

Daunting

"It's an absolute honour to be part of it," said Theo Walcott of the ceremonials. "To see the number of legends taking part made it very daunting."

To mark the moment, Walcott was wearing footwear of a hue that McLintock, for instance, might have considered a touch recherche (he was never a lime man, the double-winning captain). Indeed, the old-timers watching from the stands would have noted the modern way of football was reflected in the fact that of the current team only Mikel Arteta was sporting black boots.

But it was a flash of white that had everyone -- even the more arthritic members of the guard of honour -- up on their feet in astonishment. Robin van Persie had not enjoyed the most profitable afternoon. For 70 minutes the striker had looked peripheral as the John Heitinga and Phil Jagielka gave a convincing impression of an untroubled centre-back pairing.

Then, with Everton seemingly heading for the point they had clearly set out to gain, Alex Song looped a speculative chip into the area. Van Persie stepped outside Jagielka and, as the ball dropped over his shoulder, met it with a volley of exquisite precision, his strike whipping off his white boot into the corner of the goal.

"Those who have played football will know how hard that was to do," said Arsene Wenger of the manoeuvre. Actually there were plenty who had never kicked a ball in anger purring at the feat.

Afterwards, Van Persie admitted the goal was "a gamble." He explained: "It was a great pass again from Alex, unbelievable. He is a defensive midfielder, but the amount of skill he has is just a dream. Normally I would have touched the ball to get it right. It was a bit of a gamble, but in the end a very nice goal inside the post. I can't wish for more."

On a day dripping with nostalgia, Van Persie's goal perfectly summed up Arsenal's present. Even Wenger is prepared to admit publicly to his current dependence on the prolific Dutchman. Arsenal's season has been transformed thanks to Van Persie, a team, seemingly sinking, re-energised by his 33 goals this calendar year. And the truth was again, no one else in red was going to turn one point into the three that took Arsenal back into the Champions League positions.

"I think it is a sign of confidence," said Wenger of his player's ability to win a game to which he had contributed little. "He is not in a period where he is desperate for a goal. That first of all is very important for a goalscorer. The second thing is he is more mature. When you are 22 and you don't have the best of games you rush a little bit, but at 28 you think: let's keep focused and when I get the chance I will try to get it away." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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