Wenger saves special praise for hat-trick hero Van Persie
As the inquest began last April into another trophyless year at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was asked to evaluate the impact of Robin van Persie's absence for most of the season.
"Would we have been talking about him alongside Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney if he had not been injured? You would have talked about Van Persie in that company; of that I am sure," he said.
Wenger had deliberately focused on the individual rather than the collective loss, but there was no disguising a belief that it could all have been so different. This year we may just find out.
When fully fit, Van Persie is surely on a par with Cesc Fabregas as Arsenal's most influential player and it is only now that the two World Cup finalists are finally returning to peak form and fitness.
It all means that, in direct contrast to last season, Arsenal are gathering rather than losing momentum at this critical juncture.
With Van Persie leading the line with all his usual intelligence, Saturday's match quickly settled into a pattern whereby Wigan -- and particularly goalkeeper Ali al Habsi -- had to absorb continual pressure.
The shots-on-target count ended 10-0 in Arsenal's favour and, despite missing a penalty, Van Persie finished with the first hat-trick of his professional career. "It was about time," he said. "So many times I'd scored two goals and then I hit the bar or the post. I just thought, 'you know what? I'm just never going to score a hat-trick'. I started to accept it and, the moment when you accept it, that's when you score one."
The pick of Van Persie's goals was certainly the volleyed second, with Fabregas producing a lofted defence-splitting pass to provide the assist. Wenger, who spends so much time studying football on TV, admitted that he would be reaching for the remote control to watch that moment of skill repeatedly.
"Cesc has the vision; he has the technique and he can actually do it, so that goal goes to him for 80pc," said Van Persie. "Football's a game you should enjoy. People go out on the streets to enjoy themselves and we do that as well."
Statistics can often mislead, but, in the case of Van Persie, there is now little room for doubt. With 36 goals in 11 league matches, Arsenal had been rampaging along at an average in excess of three a game until his injury last season. In his absence, that ratio almost halved.
A similar pattern is evolving this season, in reverse, with Arsenal now having scored three or more goals in five of the seven matches that Van Persie has started. His return has also been significant in easing some of the creative burden on Samir Nasri, who acknowledged the importance of his team-mate now staying injury free.
With that in mind, Wenger is unlikely to start with either Van Persie or Fabregas against Ipswich Town in the Carling Cup semi-final second leg tomorrow.
Martinez acknowledged Arsenal's superiority, but did pointedly highlight how Fabregas had gone to ground during the match, not least for the penalty and the resulting dismissal of Gary Caldwell. "He went down all too easy," said Martinez. "But I'll accept the defeat." (© Daily Telegraph, London)