Saturday 18 November 2017

Van Persie fires Gunners through

Arsenal 2
Borussia D'mund 1

Henry Winter

The artistic genes Robin van Persie inherited from his parents continue to add wonderful colour to Arsenal's season.

The Dutchman was again magnificent, scoring twice and ensuring that Arsenal go into the Champions League knockout draw as group winners. They can also play the kids in Athens now.

If RVP inevitably took the MVP and VIP headlines, then a fulsome mention in dispatches should go to Alex Song. Sound defensively in midfield, Song created Van Persie's first in sensational fashion, dribbling past Kevin Grosskreutz, Lukasz Piszczek and Sebastian Kehl.

Dortmund were unfortunate to lose their brightest star, Mario Gotze, to a first-half injury but they still played with purpose, backed by their marvellous supporters, who resembled a field of daffodils. But this was all about Van Persie, all about a player who is leading man and talisman for Arsenal and heaven help them if he either suffers injury or eschews contract negotiations.

After a sluggish start to the season, including having to qualify for the group stages, Arsenal are now the first of the Premier League quartet to progress.

Their fans had got the decorators in, trying to make the Emirates more like Highbury, adorning the top tier of the stadium with some banners of praise to the likes of Dennis Bergkamp -- "Why Fly When You Can Walk On Water" -- and Van Persie -- "Who Needs Batman When You've Got Robin".

As urban wall art goes, it is hardly Banksy but the real-life Van Persie, the son of two artists, is certainly worth watching. Arsenal look a totally different team when the Dutch striker is involved, and his absence from the starting XI against Marseille here earlier in Group F remains an issue of some contention in these parts.

Wenger did not take any risks against enterprising visitors and included Van Persie, who almost made his mark in the opening stages. Meeting Andre Santos' driven cross, Van Persie directed a looping header goalwards but Roman Weidenfeller, Dortmund's 'keeper, had read the situation well and dropped back to clutch the ball on the line.

Until Van Persie scored in the second half, the game lacked real edge, the visitors' promising momentum disrupted by injuries to two players. Sven Bender made painful acquaintance with a Thomas Vermaelen boot, an accidental collision of which there would only be one winner.

Bender departed on a stretcher, his sad passage to the tunnel followed by respectful applause from the Arsenal faithful. Like the buses on the Holloway Road, misfortune seemed to arrive in pairs for the visitors, who soon lost Gotze. Dortmund's widely coveted No 11 never fully recovered from an early challenge with Song.

Aaron Ramsey was having one of his quieter halves, Gervinho hinted at a little but delivered less while Theo Walcott was only intermittently threatening.

The England winger did make one telling run, sliding a marvellous cross through which Weidenfeller did superbly to cut out.

Arsenal were grateful to Wojciech Szczesny either side of half-time, the 'keeper thwarting Marcel Schmelzer's 20-yarder and then Shinji Kagawa's attempt to beat him at the near post.

Arsenal then sprung to life, scoring a superb goal, eye-catching in its inception. Song turned into Graeme Rix, dribbling in from the left, beginning with beating full-back Piszczek before lifting in a cross towards Van Persie. The Dutchman timed his jump well, arrowing a header past Weidenfeller -- Thierry Henry leaping from his seat to join the salute.

Gervinho rarely exudes much threat when going one-on-one and he wasted a fine opportunity against Weidenfeller.

He was replaced by Yossi Benayoun with 15 minutes remaining, shortly after Arsenal had survived a brief scare over Van Persie. Moritz Leitner caught the Arsenal captain on the right ankle and Van Persie winced. As the Emirates held its breath, Van Persie gingerly carried on before soon refinding his stylish stride.

The striker had not finished finishing. With four minutes remaining, he again showed his excellence, redirecting home Vermaelen's flick-on of Mikel Arteta's corner. There was still time for the latest of consolations for Dortmund through Kagawa, but nothing could shake Arsenal's celebrations. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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