Published: 19 May 2012 – 03:16:59
Having shaken off his injury woes to emerge as one of Europe’s deadliest strikers, Robin van Persie’s next challenge is to make an impact at a major international tournament with the Netherlands.
The 2011-12 season was without doubt the finest of the Dutchman’s career, as he scored 30 goals for Arsenal to finish as top scorer in the Premier League, earning himself multiple recognition at the end-of-season award ceremonies.
After making only 25 league appearances in the previous season, van Persie played in every game of Arsenal’s most recent campaign, suggesting that the injuries that stunted his progress in the past are now behind him.
With 37 goals in all competitions, the 28-year-old placed himself in the company of Europe’s most prolific goalscorers.
His next assignment is to leave a mark at Euro 2012.
Van Persie was a member of the Dutch side that reached the final at the last World Cup in 2010 but he scored just one goal en route and failed to make a lasting impression on the tournament.
His agitation was, at times, plain to see, such as when he reacted angrily to being substituted by coach Bert van Marwijk after another goalless showing in the last-16 success against Slovakia.
He was a member of the Dutch squad at both the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 but in both tournaments he was used mainly as an impact player.
Now, though, he is one of the most feared forwards in the game and will spearhead the 4-2-3-1 formation introduced by Marco van Basten and kept in place by his successor van Marwijk.
With his intuitive movement, deft footwork and precise shooting, van Persie is an untypical striker but Arsenal’s third-place Premier League finish owed much to the club captain’s unerring eye for goal.
“He is like Lionel Messi in the positional sense,” states Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. “He doesn’t play like a real centre-forward but if you look at his movement, he is very intelligent because of his diagonal runs.
“And his first touch is so good that in tight spaces he can make a difference, also because he has a very short back-lift for a huge guy.”
For all his fine form, van Persie’s place in the Dutch starting XI is not as secure as it might appear.
He may have bagged six goals in qualifying but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored 12 and the Schalke striker also netted 29 goals in the Bundesliga to claim Germany’s version of the golden boot.
The two players were occasionally deployed alongside each other in qualifying but that obliged van Persie to play in a right-wing or support-striker position that he has not adopted for Arsenal for some years.
Given the strength of Holland’s group, however, van Marwijk is likely to err on the side of caution, which should mean van Persie starting on his own up front against Denmark, Germany and Portugal in Group B.
“Playing with your national team always differs from representing your club,” he told World Soccer magazine recently.
“At Arsenal I train with the boys every day but with Holland it is once in a while for a short period. You can’t compare the two.
“Nearer to a tournament, though, we have more time to train, play together and adjust to each other, so it’s something we are used to.”
The Netherlands have regularly been cited among the favourites in the build-up to the competition but how far they go may well depend on how quickly van Persie can adapt to the unique demands of tournament football.
Fall short again and Huntelaar is waiting.
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