Wenger: Gunners must prove genuine title contenders to keep van Persie
Published 02/01/2012 | 05:00
ARSENE WENGER'S journey in 2011 from purist to pragmatist can be overstated but, over the past 12 months, it is clearly not just the Arsenal team who have fundamentally evolved.
Despite being widely regarded as football's ultimate idealist and long-term planner, Wenger's year ended on Saturday night with his actions and thoughts dominated by the short- term. Thierry Henry should formally rejoin Arsenal on loan within 48 hours, while Wenger is now considering an emergency signing at left-back after Thomas Vermaelen joined Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos in the treatment room.
There was also the revealing admission that keeping Robin van Persie beyond the end of the season is likely to depend upon Arsenal proving they are a club who can still win league titles. Wenger shook his head dismissively at the suggestion he might have to fend off interest in Van Persie during this transfer window, but he knows the situation in the summer is far less certain.
Arsenal may have performed wonders to get themselves into the Premier League's top four after being 15th as recently as October, yet Van Persie, who scored 50 goals for club and country in 2011, still has rather loftier ambitions.
Asked what Arsenal would have to do to keep the striker, Wenger said: "Continue to improve and be capable to fight for the top of the league.
"Robin is an ambitious player and when you have his quality of course you want him to do that.
"If you look at the run of all of the teams from games five to 19 we are not behind anybody so, if we can continue to improve and get our injured players back, we might have a strong enough squad."
Wenger then alluded to his "secret hope" that the anticipated return of a group of key players at the end of January, coupled with Arsenal's relatively kind fixture run-in, would ensure a strong finish.
Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Gibbs and Santos should all be available again within a month.
"I didn't know that we would be in the top four by now," Wenger said. "I felt first of all (we had) to stop the crisis. By crisis I mean the confidence level drops too much and you play with fear. We have all the teams to come here: Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City. This season will be decided by how well we do at home against the big teams."
Wenger confirmed Henry would not be involved today against Fulham, but he could return in the FA Cup game against Leeds United next Monday. The most obvious risk of his comeback is that it could adversely affect Van Persie, who has so thrived as Arsenal's main striker and captain. Van Persie, though, emphatically endorsed Wenger's decision.
"Thierry's been fantastic," Van Persie said.
"I played with him for three years, and I'm happier than anyone to see him back here. When you train with guys like that, you can see that with every single touch he takes, he knows exactly what he is doing.
"He's so experienced -- he knows when to go, when to drop, when to pass. And even the little things -- the little drills in training -- he gets them spot on. When the younger players see guys like Thierry, myself, Thomas Vermaelen doing these things, they know there is no excuse for them not to follow example."
Having scored Arsenal's winner against QPR, Van Persie also stressed that he was more concerned with the result than surpassing Henry's club record of 34 goals in a calendar year.
With Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham all dropping points on Saturday, he described it as a "big day" for Arsenal, a verdict given added weight by City's defeat yesterday.
Neil Warnock, the QPR manager, repeatedly made a point of highlighting the way Van Persie shields the ball from opposition defenders with his arms.
"He gets away with murder," said Warnock, who wants to make "three or four" signings before QPR's match against Newcastle on January 15. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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