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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2020/04/02/retro-premier-league-review-robin-van-persie-became-leagues/
Retro Premier League review: How Robin van Persie became the league's most lethal striker from 2011 to 2013

Retro Premier League review: How Robin van Persie became the league's most lethal striker from 2011 to 2013

Arsene Wenger's coaching of Dutch striker resulted in the perfect retirement present for Sir Alex Ferguson

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Robin van Persie illustration
Robin van Persie - lethal as long as he was not injured

Every day this week, JJ Bull is using data to re-analyse the season during which a star of the Premier League was at the peak of his powers. The series started on Monday with a look back at Steven Gerrard in 2008-09, on Tuesday was a new appreciation of Didier Drogba in 2009-10 and on Wednesday a look back at how Cesc Fabregas was integral to Arsene Wenger's plans

Robin van Persie's struggles with injury are well documented, with the number of league games the Dutch international featured in never higher than 28 in a season since his Feyenoord debut in 2001 to the season end at Arsenal in 2010/11.

Then, all of a sudden, his body started working and for two years he was one of the most lethal, entertaining, and creative forwards the Premier League has seen.

Van Persie's excellent statistics

In the first season that Van Persie was able to play in every game, he finished as the Premier League's top scorer in 2011/12, with 30 goals in 38 appearances putting him just ahead of Wayne Rooney on 27 goals in 34 games. The next season was the last he'd be fit for an entire campaign, and again he finished top scorer - this time for Manchester United - with 26 goal in 38 appearances, beating Luis Suarez's 23 goals for the Golden Boot.

It wasn't that Van Persie had massively improved overnight at Arsenal or received more chances to score in a stronger team in Manchester United, but simply that he was on the pitch more. His goals per 90 ratio in 2010/11 of 0.72 was the best of any player but it was from only 25 games, while the nine goals in 16 matches from 09/10 suggests he was entirely capable of hitting big numbers then too.

Van Persie compared to his rivals

Rooney stepped up to be United's main source of goals the season after Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid, and found the back of the net with incredible regularity in 09/10 - when Van Persie only managed 16 games - with 26 goals, and after a quieter 10/11, pushed Van Persie all the way in 11/12.

Despite this goalscoring role, Rooney dropped into deeper positions whenever he didn't have the ball, which helps explain his high defensive output on this player radar:

Arsene Wenger treated Van Persie like the luxury option he was, ensuring he was always in the right positions to maximise his attacking talents as a centre-forward or floating around the space as a false-nine. Luis Suarez did something similar in 2012/13 as he burst onto the Premier League scene, besting Van Persie in almost every single category:

But Suarez was essentially a one-man team, while Van Persie had been signed to score the goals United needed for Ferguson's last title win, which is why he had slightly fewer touches of the ball in 12/13 compared to 11/12, and created fewer chances for others too. At Manchester United, Van Persie was a finely tuned machine tasked solely with scoring.

Van Persie's role in the team

Originally signed by Arsenal for £2.75million, Wenger had spotted the potential to develop Van Persie into another of his master project strikers by coaching him from creative winger into a complete centre-forward. "He is the kind of player," said Wenger in 2011, "with the type of game we play, who is vital because when you play the ball to his feet his first touch is always perfect and that allows others to join in." 

With Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry the central strikers in 2004, when Van Persie featured it tended to be on the wing, or occasionally as a striker, and mostly as a substitute. Arsenal's 4-4-2 gradually turned into a 4-3-3 as Cesc Fabregas became the focus of Wenger's planning from around 2005, which meant Wenger's wide forwards were expected to contribute to the score sheet more than traditional wingers had done previously. 

Wenger waited patiently for Van Persie to establish himself as the goalscorer he became, trusting him to step up as Henry and Bergkamp left and persevering through injuries until he was ready to shine. When Fabregas departed in 2011, Samir Nasri moved into the advanced playmaker role and Van Persie was promoted to captain, coinciding with his phenomenal performances in an Arsenal shirt.

Some of the goals scored during the 2011/12 season were of the absolute highest quality, with a first-time volley against Everton, in which he waited for a long pass to drop over his shoulder before firing past the goalkeeper, unfortunate not to win the illustrious BBC Goal of the Season award.

But with so much of Wenger's trophy-challenging hopes pinned on Fabregas and Van Persie, and with both regularly injured over the previous seasons, Arsenal failed to achieve the success necessary to keep this quality of player happy. If they'd been available more often, the past might have been so very different.

Speaking of volleyed wonder goals, the effort scored at 6:42 in this video did win the Goal of the Season:

The move to Manchester United was an undoubted success, resulting in the striker's only English league title win, but within three seasons Van Persie was relegated to the Premier League retirement home of the Turkish Superlig, as injuries once more hampered his ability to play .

Strikers are said to peak between the ages of 27-30, and Van Persie's goalscoring records certainly seem to back that theory up, with the curve plummeting after the second season at Man Utd and the forward banished to the 'other' section of team selection on Fifa 16 at the grand old age of 32.

Another couple of seasons in the Eredivisie followed but Van Persie's absolute best form had timed perfectly with Ferguson's final year at Old Trafford as a result of patience and coaching by Wenger at Arsenal. A perfect, begrudged retirement present.

Van Persie isn't often talked about as being one of the Premier League's great strikers for a few reasons, the most obvious being that he was constantly injured, and another being that he was only really an elite goalscorer for three glorious seasons.

The disappointing aspect of Van Persie's career is that there weren't more highlights, especially at Arsenal, and that we are left with the feeling such a prodigiously talented forward could have done so much more had he been able to play. Perhaps the old entertainment adage of 'leave them wanting more' is why it is easy to look back on Van Persie's goalscoring reign of terror from 2011 to 2013 so fondly, rather than lament what could have been.

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